The Biblical Illustrator
Oh, that I knew where I might find Him.
The cry for restored relations with God
The language of the text is exclusively that of men on the earth,--although it also characterises the state and feelings only of some of the guilty children of men. Some among the human race have already sought God, and found Him a present help in the time of trouble. The desire expressed in the text is that of one under affliction. It is either the prayer of an awakened sinner, crying and longing for reconciliation, to God, under deep conviction, and full of sorrow and shame on account of it: or the cry of the backslider awakened anew to his danger and guilt, under God’s chastisements, remembering the sweet enjoyment of brighter days, and ardently longing for its return.
I. It implies a painful sense of distance from God. Men of no religion are far off from God, but this gives them no concern. The presence of Christ constitutes the believer’s joy, and he mourns nothing so much as the loss of God’s favour. Sad and comfortless as the state of distance from God must be to the believer, still he is painfully conscious of his own state, and crying like Job, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” The occasions that most generally give birth to the complaint and cry in the text are such as these.
1. Bodily suffering, or the pressure of severe and long-continued outward calamities, may contribute to enfeeble the mind, and lead the soul to conclude that it is forsaken by its God. The dispensations of Divine providence appear so complex and difficult, that faith is unable to explore them, or hope to rise above them. The mind magnifies its distresses, and dwells on its own griefs, to the exclusion of those grounds of consolation and causes of thankfulness afforded in the many mercies that tend to alleviate their bitterness. In reality God is not more distant from the soul, though He appears to be so.
2. Another and more serious occasion of distance and desertion is sin cherished, long indulged, unrepented of, and unpardoned. This alienates the soul from God. Sin is just the wandering of the soul in its thoughts, desires, and affections from God, and God graciously makes sin itself the instrument in correcting the backslider. The righteous desert of the soul’s departure from God, is God’s desertion of the soul. God is really ever near to man. “He is not far from any one of us.” But sin indulged, whether open, secret, or presumptuous, grieves the Holy Spirit, expels Him from the temple He loved, and cheered by His presence. Let us thank God that distance is not utter desertion. When the misery of separation and distance from God is felt, the dawn of restoration and reconciliation begins.
II. As the language of earnest desire. When “brought to himself” the backslider rests not satisfied with fruitless complaints, but the desire of his soul is towards his God. It is one thing to be conscious of distance from God, and quite another thing to be anxious to be brought near to Him by the blood of Christ. Conviction of guilt and misery is not conversion. What avails it, to know our separation from God, unless we are brought to this desire and anxiety, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!”
III. As the language of holy freedom. The text is a way of appeal by Job to God concerning his integrity. Though he had much to say in favour of his integrity before men, he did not rest on anything in himself as the ground of his justification before God. His language expresses a resolution to avail himself of the privilege of approaching the Most High with holy freedom and humble confidence, to present his petition.
IV. As the language of hope. Job could expect little from his earthly friends. All his hopes flowed from another--an Almighty Friend. Those who wait on God, and hope in His Word, will surely not be disappointed. Then never give way to a rebellious spirit. Give not way to languor in your affections, coldness in your desires, indifference as to the Lord’s presence or absence, or to feebleness of faith. Let the desires of your soul be, as David’s, a “panting after God.” (Charles O. Stewart.)
The great problem of life
This cry of Job is represented to us in this passage as a cry for justice. He has been tortured by the strange mystery of God’s providence; he has had it brought before himself in his own painful experience, and from that has been led to look out on the world, where he sees the same mystery enlarged and intensified.
He sees wrong unredressed, evil unpunished, innocence crushed under the iron heel of oppression. He does not see clear evidences of God’s moral government of the world, and he comes back ever to the personal problem with which he is faced, that he though he is sure of his own innocence, is made to suffer, and he feels as if God had been unjust to him. He wants it explained; he would like to argue the case, and set forth his plea; he longs to be brought before God’s judgment seat and plead before Him, and give vent to all the bitter thoughts in his mind. “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat! I would order my cause before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments.“ He feels God’s very presence about him on every side, ever present, but ever eluding him; everywhere near, but everywhere avoiding him. “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him. On the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him; He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him.” It is not his own personal pain that makes the problem, except in so far as that has brought him before the deeper problem of God’s providence which he now confronts. Everything would be clear and plain if he could but come into close relations with God, and that is just what meanwhile he cannot attain. “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!”
I. In perhaps a wider sense than its original application in the passage of our text, these words of Job are as the very sigh of the human heart, asking the deepest question of life. Men have always boon conscious of God, as Job was, sure that He was near, and sure also, like Job, that in Him would be the solution of every difficulty and the explanation of every mystery. The race has been haunted by God. St. Paul’s words to the Athenians on Mars Hill are a true reading of history, and a true reading of human nature; that all men are so constituted by essential nature that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us. It is the deepest philosophy of human history. Even when men have no definite knowledge of God they are forced by the very needs of their nature, driven by inner necessity, to reach out after God. Though, like Job, when they go forward He is not there, and backward they cannot perceive Him. On the left hand and on the right hand they cannot see Him, yet they are doomed to seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him. Man is a religious being, it is in his blood; he feels himself related to a power above him, and knows himself a spirit longing for fellowship with the Divine. Thus religion is universal, found at all stages of human history and all ages; all the varied forms of religion, all its institutions, all its sorts of worship, are witnesses to this conscious need which the race has for God. Job may assent to Zophar the Naamathite’s proposition that finite man cannot completely comprehend the infinite. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?” But this assertion does not disprove the fact of which he is certain, that he has had fellowship with God, and has had religious experiences of which he cannot doubt. All forms of faith are witnesses to man’s insatiable thirst for God, and many forms of unbelief and denial are only more pathetic witnesses still of the same fact. Many a denial of the Divine is just the bitter faith that He is a God that hideth Himself. When men come to consciousness of self they come also to consciousness of the unseen, a sense of relation to the power above them. The great problem of life is to find God; not to find happiness, not even by being satiated with that can the void be filled; but to find God; for being such as we are, with needs, longings, aspirations, we are beaten with unsatisfied desire, struck with restless fever, till we find rest in God. The true explanation is the biblical one, that man is made in the imago of God, that in spirit he is akin to the eternal Spirit, there is no great gulf fixed between God and man which cannot be bridged over. Man was created in the likeness of God, but was born a child of God. Fellowship is possible, therefore, since there is no inherent incapacity; there is something in man which corresponds to qualities in God. The conclusion, which is the instinctive faith of man, is that spirit with spirit can meet. God entered into a relation of love and fatherhood with man, man entered into a relationship of love and sonship with God. Certain it is that man can never give up the hope and the desire, and must be orphaned and desolate until he so does find God.
II. If it be true, as it is true, that man has ever sought God, it is a deeper fact still that God has ever sought man. The deep of man’s desire has been answered by the deep of God’s mercy. For every reaching forth of man there has been the stooping down of God. History is more than the story of the human soul seeking God; in a truer and more profound sense still is it the record of God seeking the soul. The very fact that men have asked with some measure of belief, though struck almost with doubt at the wonder of it, “Will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth?” is because God has dwelt with men, has entered into terms of communion. The history of man’s attainment is the history of God’s self-revelation. It is solely because God has been seeking man that man has stretched out groping hands if haply he might feel after Him and find Him. Faith has survived just because it justifies itself and because it embodies itself in experience. Religious history is not only the dim and blundering reaching out of man’s intelligence towards the mystery of the unknown, it is rather the history of God approaching man, revealing His will to man, declaring Himself, offering relations of trust and fellowship. If Christ has given expression to the character of God, if He has revealed the Father, has He not consciously, conclusively, proved to us that the Divine attitude is that of seeking men, striving to establish permanent relations of devotion and love? He has also given us the assurance that to respond to God’s love is to know Him, the assurance that to seek Him is to find Him, so that no longer need we ask in half despair, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” Prayer, trust, worship, self-surrender, never fail of Divine response, bringing peace and heart’s ease. When to the knowledge that God is, and is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, there is added the further knowledge that God is love, we receive a guarantee--do we not?--that not in vain is our desire after Him, a guarantee that to seek Him is to find Him. Ah, the tragedy is not that men who seek should have failed to find God, but that men should not seek, that men should be content to pass through life without desiring much, or much striving, to pierce the veil of mystery. It is man’s nature to seek God, we have said, but this primitive intuition can be overborne by the weight of material interest, by the mass of secondary concerns, by the lust of flesh and the lust of eye and pride of life. A thousand-fold better than this deadness of soul is it to be still unsatisfied, still turning the eyes to the light for the blissful vision; to be still in want, crying to the silent skies, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” But even that need not be our condition. If we seek God, as we surely can, as we surely do, in the face of Jesus Christ, the true picture is not man lost in the dark, not man seeking God his home with palsied steps and groping hands. The true picture is the seeking God, come in Christ to seek and save the lost. (H. Black, M. A.)
Man’s cry for fellowship with God
The provision to satisfy this longing of the soul must involve--
I. A personal manifestation of God to the soul. It is not for some thing, but for some person that the soul cries. Pantheism may gratify the instinct of the speculative, or the sentiment of the poetic, but it meets not this profoundest craving of our nature.
II. A benevolent manifestation of God to the soul. For an unemotional God the soul has no affinity; for a malevolent one it has a dread. It craves for one that is kind and loving. Its cry is for the Father; nothing else will do.
III. A propitiable manifestation of God to the soul. A sense of sin presses heavily on the race. So mere benevolence will not do. God may be benevolent and yet not propitiable. Does then our Bible meet the greatest necessity of human nature? Does it give a personal, benevolent, and propitiable God? (Homilist.)
Job looking round for God
Job looks round for God, as a man might look round for an old acquaintance, an old but long-gone friend. Memory has a great ministry to discharge in life; old times come back, and whisper to us, correct us or bless us, as the ease may be. After listening to all new doctors the heart says, “Where is your old friend? where the quarter whence light first dawned? recall yourself; think out the whole case.” So Job would seem now to say, Oh that I knew where I might find Him! I would go round the earth to discover Him; I would fly through all the stars if I could have but one brief interview with Him; I would count no labour hard if I might see Him as I once did. We are not always benefited by a literally correct experience, a literally correct interpretation, even. Sometimes God has used other means for our illumination and release, and upbuilding in holy mysteries. So Job might have strange ideas of God, and yet those ideas might do him good. It is not our place to laugh even at idolatry. There is no easier method of provoking an unchristian laugh, or evoking an unchristian plaudit, than by railing against the gods of the heathen. Job’s ideas of God were not ours, but they were his; and to be a man’s very own religion is the beginning of the right life. Only let a man with his heart hand seize some truth, hold on by some conviction, and support the same by an obedient spirit, a beneficent life, a most charitable temper, a high and prayerful desire to know all God’s will, and how grey and dim soever the dawn, the noontide shall be without a cloud, and the afternoon shall be one long quiet glory. Hold on by what you do know, and do not be laughed out of initial and incipient convictions by men who are so wise that they have become fools. Job says, Now I bethink me, God is considerate and forbearing. “Will He plead against me with His great power? No; but He would put strength in me” (verse 6). It is something to know so much. Job says, Bad as I am, I might be worse; after all I am alive; poor, desolated, impoverished, dispossessed of nearly everything I could once handle and claim as my own, yet still I live, and life is greater than anything life can ever have. So I am not engaged in a battle against Omnipotence; were I to fight Almightiness, why I should be crushed in one moment. The very fact that I am spared shows that although it may be God who is against me, He is not rude in His almightiness, He is not thundering upon me with His great strength; He has atmosphered Himself, and is looking in upon me by a gracious accommodation of Himself to my littleness. Let this stand as a great and gracious lesson in human training, that however great the affliction it is evident that God does not plead against us with His whole strength; if He did so, He who touches the mountains and they smoke has but to lay one finger upon us--nay, the shadow of a finger--and we should wither away. So, then, I will bless God; I will begin to reckon thus, that after all that has gone the most has been left me; I can still inquire for God, I can still even dumbly pray; I can grope, though I cannot see; I can put out my hands in the great darkness, and feel something; I am not utterly cast away. Despisest thou the riches of His goodness? Shall not the riches of His goodness lead thee to repentance? Hast thou forgotten all the instances of forbearance? Is not His very stroke of affliction dealt reluctantly? Does He not let the lifted thunder drop? Here is a side of the Divine manifestation which may be considered by the simplest minds; here is a process of spiritual reckoning which the very youngest understandings may conduct. Say to yourself, Yes, there is a good deal left; the sun still warms the earth, the earth is still willing to bring forth fruit, the air is full of life; I know there are a dozen graves dug all round me, but see how the flowers grow upon them everyone; did some angel plant them? Whence came they? Life is greater than death. The life that was in Christ abolished death, covered it with ineffable contempt, and utterly set it aside, and its place is taken up by life and immortality, on which are shining forever the whole glory of heaven. Job will yet recover. He will certainly pray; perhaps he will sing; who can tell? He begins well; he says he is not fighting Omnipotence, Omnipotence is not fighting him, and the very fact of forbearance involves the fact of mercy. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
How to find God
There are many senses in which we may speak of “finding God”; and in one or other of these senses it may be we have all of us yet need to find Him.
1. Some there are who will confess at once that they are at times--not always, not often perhaps, but sometimes--troubled with speculative doubts about God’s existence. So many thoughtful, earnest men around them seem to regard it as an open question whether the problems of nature may not be solved on some other hypothesis.
2. Others dislike controversy, and would rather not enter upon the question whether they have found God. These are Christians, and the first article of their creed is, “I believe in God.”
3. Some are ready timidly to confess that again and again they have found their faith in God’s presence fail them, when they have most needed it.
4. A happier group, by a well-ordered life of devotion, and daily attendance on the ordinances of the Church, are keeping themselves near to God. And yet even these may have a misgiving that they are growing too dependent on these outward helps for the sustaining of their faith. Job’s words may well awaken an echo in all our hearts. “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” There is comfort in the fact that holy men of old felt this same desire to find God in some deeper sense than they had yet attained to. If they felt it, we need not be unduly distressed if we feel it also. How then are we to seek to find God? Intellectually or otherwise? Not to mere intellect, but to a higher faculty, the moral and spiritual faculty. When we speak of knowing a thing intellectually, we mean that we know it by demonstration of sense or reason. When we speak of knowing a thing morally or spiritually, we mean that we either know it intuitively or take it on trust. We do not mean that the evidence in this latter case is less certain than in the former; it may be far more certain. Scepticism in religion is simply that failure of faith which is sure to result from an endeavour to grasp religious truths by a faculty that was never intended to grasp them. But how am I to know what is a Divine revelation, and what is not? He who is in direct correspondence with God, holding direct intercourse with God, will not need any further evidence of God’s existence. If any here would find God, let him first go to the four Gospels, and try to see clearly there what Christ promises to do for him. Then let him take this promise on trust, as others have done, and act upon it. And if perseveres, he will sooner or later most surely find God. (Canon J. P. Norris, B. D.)
The universal cry
When Job uttered this cry he was in great distress. That God is just is a fact; that men suffer is also a fact; and both these facts are found side by side in the same universe governed by one presiding will. How to reconcile the two, how to explain human suffering under the government of a righteous Ruler, is the great problem of the Book of Job. It is a question which has occupied the thoughts of the thinking in every age. The form in which it presents itself here is this,--Is God righteous in afflicting an innocent man? The friends say there are just two ways of it. Either you are guilty or God is unjust. It is not so much the character of Job that is at stake as the character of God Himself; the Almighty Himself stands at the bar of human reason. The patriarch felt assured that there was a righteous God who would not afflict unjustly, and he cries, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” Obviously he was not ignorant of the Divine Being, not ignorant of His existence, but ignorant how He was to be approached.
I. The cry of the human soul after God. Notice the object of the cry. It is for God. It goes straight to the mark, right over all lower objects and minor aims. He felt he had come to a crisis in his life, when none but God could avail. Give me God, and I have enough. When Job uttered this cry he unconsciously struck the keynote of universal desire. It is the cry of the human race after God. It is the instinctive cry of the human soul. Nature told men that there was a God, but it could not lead them to His seat. The sages went to philosophy for an answer, but philosophy said, “It is not for me.” In view of this fruitless search, a question might be started, a question easier to ask than to answer,--Why did God keep Himself and His plans hidden from mankind so long? This is one of the secret things that belong to God. We cannot tell, and we need not speculate.
II. The gospel answer to the text. Christ in human form satisfies the longing of the human spirit. He is Immanuel,--God with us. You will find the Father in the Son, you will find God in Christ. This cry may come from a soul who has never known God at all, or it may come from one who has lost the sense of His favour and longs for restoration. In either case the cry can be answered only in Christ. Have you found God? If you will take Christ as your guide, He will lead you up to God. (David Merson, B. D.)
The soul’s inquiry after a personal God
It is characteristic of man to ask questions. Question asking proceeds from personal need, curiosity, or love of knowledge, either for its own sake or its relative usefulness. We feel that we are dependent upon others for some direction or solution of difficulties; hence we ask for direction or instruction, because the limited character of our nature, and our dependence upon one another demand it. There are questions man asks himself, in his secret communion and examination with and of himself; there are some he asks of the universe; but the greatest and gravest are those he asks direct of God in sighs and supplications both by night and day. The sentence of the text is a question which the soul, in its search after God, continually asks; which is one of the greatest questions of life.
I. The need of the soul of a personal God. The human soul ever cries for God. It never ceases in its cry, and is weary in its search and effort in seeking the absolute reality and good of life. The soul needs an object to commune with, and this it finds in a Divine personality, and nowhere else. The soul asks, Where is the living One? The soul needs security, and that is not to be found according to the language of conviction but in a personal God. The soul seeks unity, hence it seeks a personal God.
II. The soul in search after a personal God. So near is the relation between conviction of the need of God, and the search after Him, that in the degree one is felt, the other is done. The soul is not confined to one place, or one mode of means in the search.
III. The perplexity of the soul in its search for the personal God. The perplexity arises partly from the mystery of the object of search.
IV. The secret confidence of the soul in the personal God whom it seeks. There is a general confidence in God’s mercy and in His all-sufficiency. (T. Hughes.)
Craving for God
These words are the utterance of a yearning and dissatisfied soul. The words were put into the mouth of Job, the well-known sufferer, whose patience under accumulated calamities is proverbial. Perhaps Job was not a real individual, but the hero of a majestic poem, through which the writer expresses his thoughts on the world-old problem that suffering is permitted by a good God to afflict even the righteous. Nevertheless, the writer may have had some special sufferer in his eye. No man without experience could have drawn these sublime discussions from his own fancy. They reflect too truly the sorrows and perplexities of human hearts in this life of trial. This man cries out, almost in despair, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” Find whom? God, the Almighty and Eternal, the Maker and Ruler of all. What a longing! What a search! In the mere fact of that search the downcast soul proclaims its lofty nature. And whoever is prompted by his needs and sorrows to cherish this desire, is raised and bettered thereby.
I. The search for God. Among the acts possible to man only, is that he alone can search for God. Strange are the contrasts which human nature exhibits. Language cannot describe the elevation to which man is capable of rising--the lofty self-devotion, the quest for truth, above all, the earnest search for God. Of all the many things men seek, surely this is the noblest, this search for God.
II. The search for God unavailing. This is an exclamation of despair about finding God. It seems to be Job’s chief trouble that he cannot penetrate the clouds and darkness which surround his Maker.
III. The search for God rewarded. The deep, unquenchable craving of frail, suffering, sinful men to find their Maker, and to find Him their friend, is met in Jesus Christ. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
Oh that I knew where I might find Him
As these words are often the language of a penitent heart seeking the Saviour, Comforter, and Sanctifier, inquire--
I. Who are the characters that employ this language?
1. The sinner under conviction.
2. Believers in distress.
3. Penitent backsliders.
II. Point out where the Lord may be found.
1. In His works, as a God of power.
2. In providence, as a God of wisdom and goodness.
3. In the human breast, as a God of purity and justice.
4. In the ordinances of religion, as a God of grace. It is chiefly on the throne of mercy that He is graciously found.
III. From what sources you draw arguments.
1. From His power.
2. His goodness.
3. His mercy.
4. His truth.
5. His impartiality.
6. His justice.
The text is the language of sincere regret; restless desire; guilty fear; anxious inquiry; willing submission. (J. Summerfield, A. M.)
Man desiring God
God comes only into the heart that wants Him. Do I really, with my whole heart, desire to find God, and to give myself wholly into His hands? Do not mistake, if you please. This is the starting point. If you be wrong at this point my lesson will be taught entirely in vain. Everything depends upon the tone and purpose of the heart. If there is one here, really and truly, with all the desire of the soul, longing to find God, there is no reason why He should not be found, by such a seeker, ere the conclusion of the present service. How is it with our hearts? Do they go out but partially after God? Then they will see little or nothing of Him. Do they go out with all the stress of their affection, all the passion of their love,--do they make this their one object and all-consuming purpose? Then God will be found of them; and man and his Maker shall see one another, as it were, face to face, and new life shall begin in the human soul. Let me say, truly and distinctly, that it is possible to desire God under the impulse of merely selfish fear, and that such desire after God seldom ends in any good. It is true that fear is an element in every useful ministry. We would not, for one moment, undervalue the importance of fear in certain conditions of the human mind. At the same time, it is distinctly taught in the Holy Book that men may, in certain times, under the influence of fear, seek God, and God will turn His back upon them, will shut His ears when they cry, and will not listen to the voice of their appeal. Nothing can be more distinctly revealed than this awful doctrine, that God comes to men within certain seasons and opportunities, that He lays down given conditions of approach, that He even fixes times and periods, and that the day will come when He will say, “I will send a famine upon the earth.” Not a famine of bread, or a thirst of water, but of hearing the Word of the Lord. When men are in great physical pain, when cholera is in the air, when smallpox is killing its thousands week by week, when wheat fields are turned into graveyards, when God’s judgments are abroad in the earth, there be many who turn their ashen faces to the heavens! What if God will not hear their cowardly prayer? When God lifts His sword, there be many that say, “We would flee from this judgment.” And when He comes in the last, grand, terrible development of His personality, many will cry unto the rocks, and unto the hills to hide them from His face; but the rocks and the hills will hear them not, for they will be deaf at the bidding of God! I am obliged, therefore, you see, as a Christian teacher, to make this dark side of the question very plain indeed; because there are persons who imagine that they may put off these greatest considerations of life until times of sickness, and times of withdrawment from business, and times of plague, and seasons that seem to appeal more pathetically than others to their religious nature. God has distinctly said, “Because I called, and they refused; I stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; I will mock at their calamity, I will laugh at their afflictions, I will mock when their fear cometh--when their fear cometh as desolation, and judgment cometh upon them as a whirlwind! Then they will cry unto Me, but I will not hear!” Now, lest any man should be under thee impression that he can call upon God at any time and under any circumstances, I wish to say, loudly, with a trumpet blast, There is a black mark at a certain part of your life; up to that you may seek God and find Him,--beyond it you may cry, and hear nothing but the echo of your own voice! How then does it stand with us in this matter of desire? Is our desire after God living, loving, intense, complete? Why, that desire itself is prayer; and the very experience of that longing brings heaven into the soul! Let me ask you again, Do you really desire to find God, to know Him, and to love Him? That desire is the beginning of the new birth; that longing is the pledge that your prayers shall be accomplished in the largest, greatest blessing that the living God can bestow upon you. Still it may be important to go a little further into this, and examine what our object is in truly desiring to find God. It may be possible that even here our motive may be mixed; and if there is the least alloy in our motive, that alloy will tell against us. The desire must be pure. There must be no admixture of vanity or self-sufficiency; it must be a desire of true, simple, undivided love. Now, how is it with the desire which we at this moment may be presumed to experience? Let me ask this question, What is your object in desiring to find God? Is it to gratify intellectual vanity? That is possible. It is quite conceivable that a man of a certain type and cast of mind shall very zealously pursue theological questions without being truly, profoundly religious. It is one thing to have an interest in scientific theology, and another tiring really and lovingly to desire God for religious purposes. Is it not perfectly conceivable that a man shall take delight in dissecting the human frame, that he may find out its anatomy and understand its construction; and yet do so without any intention ever to heal the sick, or feed the hungry, or clothe the naked? Some men seem to be born with a desire to anatomise; they like to dissect, to find out the secret of the human frame, to understand its construction and the interdependence of its several parts. So far we rejoice in their perseverance and their discoveries. But it is perfectly possible for such men to care for anatomy without caring for philanthropy; to care about anatomy, from a scientific point of view, without any ulterior desire to benefit any living creature. So it is perfectly conceivable that man shall make the study of God a kind of intellectual hobby, without his heart being stirred by deep religious concern to know God as the Father, Saviour, Sanctifier, Sovereign of the human race. I, therefore, do not beg you to excuse me in the slightest degree in putting this question so penetratingly. It is a vital question. Do you seek to know more of God simply as a scientific theological inquirer? If so, you are off the line of my observations, and the Gospel I have to preach will hardly reach you in your remote position. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Job’s thoughts concerning an absent God
Whether there ever was such a being as a speculative atheist, it may not be easy to determine; but there are two classes of atheists which are very easily found. There are some who are atheists by disposition. There are also practical atheists.
I. Job’s condition. “Even today is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning.” In some this murmuring and repining is a natural infirmity; they seem to be constitutionally morbid and querulous. In others this is a moral infirmity, arising from pride and unbelief and discontent, against which it becomes us always carefully to guard.
II. Job’s desire. “Oh that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to Iris seat!” He does not express the name of God. Here we see an addition to his distress; he was now in a state of desertion. God can never be absent from His people, as to His essential presence, or even as to His spiritual presence. But He may be absent as to what our divines call His sensible presence, or the manifestation of His favour and of the designs of His dealings with us. This greatly enhances any external affliction. For the presence of God, which is always necessary, is never so sweet as it is in the day of trouble. It is a sad thing to be without the presence of God; but it is far worse to be senseless of our need of it. The desire after God arises from three causes.
1. The new nature. Persons will desire according to their conviction and their disposition.
2. Experience. When they first sought after God, they felt their need of film
3. A consciousness of their entire dependence upon Him. They feel that all their sufficiency is of God. Observe, in the case of Job, the earnestness of his desire.
III. His resolution.
1. He says, “I would order my cause before Him.” Which shows that the Divine presence would not overpower him, so as not to leave sense, reason, and speech.
2. He says, “I would fill my mouth with arguments.” Not that these are necessary to excite and move a Being who is love itself; but these are proper to affect and encourage us.
3. He says, “I would know the words which He would answer me, and understand what He would say unto me.” In general, a Christian wishes to know the Divine pleasure concerning him. You will attach little importance to prayer, if you are regardless of God’s answer to it.
IV. His confidence and expectation. The power of God is great. Notice the blessedness of having this power employed for us. “He will put strength in me.” How dreadful must it be for God to “plead against a man by His great power.” (William Jay.)
Job’s appeal to God
Taking the Book of Job as a whole, it may be called a dramatic epic poem of remarkable merit, in which the author graphically discusses the general distribution of good and evil in the world, inquiring whether or not there is a righteous distribution of this good and evil here on earth, and whether or not the dealings of God with men are according to character. Job was saved from consenting to the conclusions of the three friends, through the consciousness of personal integrity and the confidence of his heart in a loving God. Job’s struggle was desperate. Those long-continued days and weeks were a trial of faith beyond our estimate. The question was not whether Job would bear his multiplied afflictions with a stoical heroism, but whether he would still turn to God, would rest in the calm confidence of his heart that God would be his justification and vindication. We now look at this storm-tossed man in his extremity, and discover him--
I. Anxious to find how he can get his cause before God for arbitration. Job illustrates what ought to be true of every man. We should be anxious to know what God thinks of us, rather than what men think of us. We should remember that One is to be our Judge who knows our heart, before whom, in the day of final assize, we are to appear for inspection, and whose recognition of our integrity will insure blessedness for us in the great hereafter.
II. We discover Job calmly confident that God’s decision of his cause will be just. He does not imagine for a moment that God will make mistakes concerning him, or that Omnipotence will take advantage of his weakness.
III. In great perplexity, because he seems to be excluded from the trial which he seeks. The lament of this man here is painful and mysterious. Job’s hope had been that God would appear somewhere. But all is night and silence. This is human experience caused by human infirmities. Life is a season of discipline, a season of education and evolution.
IV. We find Job calm in the assured watchfulness of God over him, and in his confidence of ultimate vindication. Here is supreme faith in the all-knowing and finally delivering God. Job’s faith is the world’s need. (Justin E. Twitchell.)
Where God is found
This Book of Job represents a discussion upon God’s providential relations to the world, and shows how the subject perplexed and baffled the minds of men in those early days in which it was written. God, in the book, does not give the required explanations; but, pointing out the marks of His power, wisdom, and goodness, in His natural works, leaves His hearers to the exercise of a pure and simple trust. With reference to the loss of God’s presence, over which men mourn in our day--this longing to find God and to come unto His mercy seat, which is so widespread and so unsatisfied--we must not treat it with reproof due only to moral delinquency or religious indifference; but do our best to furnish direction which reason and conscience will approve. Call to mind the circumstances under which men have been thrown into all this doubt and perplexity. Then we shall find it is not that they have been intellectually brought into a position in which it is impossible to believe in Divine communion; but that the special system with which the forms of Divine communion have, during the last few centuries, been associated, has broken down, and left men without a perfect basis for their faith, and without an intellectual justification of the act of Divine communion. If you feel this to be true, if under the sense of the worthlessness of those systems of divinity which your conscience even more than your understanding rejects, you are yet longing for Divine communion, I have now to assert that God is to be found, not through systems of divinity, or processes of logical thought, but by the simple, childlike surrender of the soul to those influences which God, through all the objects of truth, goodness, beauty, and purity, exerts directly on it. The sense of God’s presence is obtained through the pure and quiet contemplation of Divine objects. “To seek our divinity merely in books and writings is to seek the living among the dead.” It is only of the knowledge of God in His relations to ourselves that I speak. In our knowledge of God two elements are necessarily mingled.
1. There is the feeling which is excited within us when we come preparedly into contact with what is Divine. The soul feels God’s presence, however He may be named, and with whatever investiture He may be clothed. But then the understanding interprets the devout feeling Divine objects awaken, by representing God under such forms as its culture enables it to think out. God has appointed many objects through which He makes His revelation directly to the soul. Everything in the natural and moral world, which greatly surpasses man’s comprehension or attainments, becomes the medium through which God speaks to the soul, touches its devout feeling, and so reveals Himself. You may say, “It is not feeling I want,, but a justification of my feeling; a reconciliation of my feeling with the facts science, history, and criticism have taught me.” Nay, it is feeling, intense, irresistible feeling, of God’s presence with us and in us that we need. No thinking can give you back the God you have lost; it is in feeling, the feeling awakened by coming into contact with God, that alone you can find Him. There is, however, one condition--a man must come with a pure heart, a free conscience, and a purpose set to do God’s will. (J. Cranbrook.)
Job’s spiritual sentiments
These words exhibit a pattern of the frame of spirit habitually felt, in a good degree, by every child of God, while he is in the posture of seeking for the presence of God, and for intimate communion with Him.
I. The different spiritual sentiments implied in this holy exclamation. Here is--
1. A solemn appeal from the unjust censures of men, to the knowledge, love, and faithfulness of God, the supreme Judge. Apostasy from God hath rendered mankind very foolish and erroneous judges in spiritual matters. The more of God there is in any man’s character and exercises, the more is that man exposed to the malignant censures, not only of the world at large, but even of Christians of an inferior class. For the weakest Christians are most forward to go beyond their depths, in judging confidently of things above their knowledge. Against assaults of this kind the children of the Most High have a strong refuge. The shield of faith quenches the fiery and envenomed darts of calumny, misrepresentation, and malice.
2. An intended bold expostulation with God, in respect of the strangeness and intricacy of His dealings with His afflicted servant. It is one of the hardest conflicts in the spiritual life, when God Himself appears as a party contending with His own children. Job could discover no special reason for God’s severity against him. His faith naturally vents itself in the way of humble, yet bold expostulation.
3. A perplexing sense of distance from God. Renewed souls have such perceptions of God as are mysterious to themselves and incredible to others. When God seems to hide His face, an awful consternation, confusion, dejection, and anguish are the consequence. This situation is the more perplexing when, as was Job’s case, there is felt a very great need for the presence of God, and when all endeavours to recover it seem to be vain. Then the conclusion is sometimes rashly drawn by the people of God, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.” But in all these afflictions of His people, the Lord Himself is afflicted.
4. Job’s exclamation expresses most vehement desires after the spiritual presence of God.
5. What is particularly to be attended to is the nature of the access to God which Job desired. He was in pursuit of the most near and intimate communion with God.
II. Bring home the whole of these sentiments.
1. Such instances of deep and sober spiritual exercise furnish a convincing proof of the reality of religion, and of the certainty of the great truths with which the power of religion is so closely connected.
2. The things which have been treated of give us a view of the nature as well as of the reality of religion.
3. Such characters as that of Job carry in them the condemnation of various classes of people.
4. This subject may be applied for the encouragement of the upright. (J. Love, D. D.)
The believer under affliction
Job was justly chargeable with a disposition to self-justification, though he was not guilty of that insincerity, hypocrisy, and contempt of God which his precipitate and unfeeling friends alleged against him. This self-approving temper God took means to correct. One of the methods He used was, hiding His face from him, and leaving him to feel the wretchedness and helplessness of this state of spiritual desertion. The text may be regarded as mirroring the state of one suffering under a conscious absence of God, who longs for the returning smile of His reconciled countenance.
I. The deep, painful, and distressing feeling which these words bring before us. The language of the text is not the language of one possessing either a false security or a real and solid peace. There is a peace which disturbs the soul, a treacherous calm, the harbinger of the tempest. There is a rest which is not a healthy repose, but the torpor of one over whose members there is stealing the unfelt effects of that lifeless inactivity which so often precedes a second death. Those who are the victims of this fatal insensibility see no danger, and therefore fear no evil. They apprehend no change, and so prepare against no danger. How different is the state implied in the text! The mind, aroused from its carelessness, finds itself wretched and miserable, poor and blind and naked. It knows no peace; it has no comforter. “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” is the language of such a spirit in the hour of its dimness and darkness and perplexity. The language is even more truly descriptive of the feeling of one who, having known the grace of God in truth, has lost his sense of the Divine favour, and walks in heaviness under the chastening hand and frowning countenance of his Heavenly Father.
II. The ardent desire. The first symptom of returning health and soundness in the mind is that restlessness which urges the soul to flee again unto its God. Satan has recourse to various artifices for the purpose of diverting the desires into another channel. When God is absent from you, do not rest until He return to you, as the God of your salvation.
III. Holy resolution. “I would order my cause before Him.” There is an important sense in which a sinner may order his cause before God; and there are irresistible “arguments” which he is authorised to advance, and which he is assured will be favourably received. Combined with self-abasement, there should be confidence in the mercy of that God to whom you so reverently draw nigh. Alas! how many there are who will not give themselves the trouble earnestly to desire and diligently to seek the Lord! (Stephen Bridge, A. M.)
Pleading with God
God hath chosen His people in the furnace of affliction. The greatest saints are often the greatest sufferers.
I. Where shall I find God? Where is His mercy seat? Whore doth He graciously reveal Himself to those who seek Him? I know that I may find Him in nature. The world, the universe of worlds, are the works of His hands. We may find Him in the Bible, in the secret place of prayer, and in my own heart.
II. How shall I approach him? Sinner that I am, how shall I order my cause before a righteous and holy Judge? Prayer is the appointed method, the duty enjoined upon all, the universal condition of forgiveness and salvation. Why is prayer made the condition of the blessing? Because it is the confession of my need, and the declaration of my desire; the acknowledgment of my helpless dependency, and the expression of my humble trust in His almighty goodness. But all prayer must be offered through the mediation of God’s beloved Son. And we must come with sincerity.
III. What plea must I employ? Shall I plead the dignity of my rank, or the merit of my work, or the purity of my heart? I will plead His glorious name, and His unspeakable gift, and His great and precious promises. I will plead the manifestation of His mercy to others, and the numberless instances of His grace to myself.
IV. And what answer shall I receive? Will God disregard my suit? No. “He will put strength in me.” He will show me what is in my favour; suggest to my mind additional and irrefutable arguments. “I shall know the words that He will answer me.” (J. Cross, D. D.)
Job’s appeal to God
This passage opens with a statement of Job’s dissatisfied condition of mind (verses 1, 2), followed by a wish that he might find God and defend himself before Him (verses 3-7); and it concludes with a lament that he is not able to do so (verses 8-10). In thinking over this passage, remember two things--
1. The abstract question of the possibility of any man being absolutely innocent in the sight of God is not raised here. Men are divided into two great classes--those who (however imperfectly) seek to serve God and do right, and those who live in selfishness and sin. The former class are called the righteous. In the relative sense, Job’s claim as to his own character was true.
2. We are not to find in Job, as he is here exhibited, a model for ourselves when we are afflicted. Try to separate in Job’s condition those things in which he was right from those things in which he was wrong. He was right--
1. In his consciousness of innocence.
2. In using his reason on the great problem of suffering.
3. In wanting to know God’s opinion of him.
4. In his desire to be just before God.
5. In holding fast to his belief in God.
6. Job believed in justice as an essential element in the character of God, even though he did not see how God was just in the present instance.
Job was wrong--
1. In his imperfect theory of suffering--wrong, that is, in the sense of being mistaken.
2. In his restless desire to know all the reasons for God’s dealings with him.
3. In wanting to have God bring Himself down to a level of equality with him, laying aside His omniscience, and listening, as though He were only a human judge, to Job.
4. And Job was plainly wrong in his impatient fooling towards God (verse 2). (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Will He plead against me with His great power?
Job’s confidence in God
The idea of a God of power is common to all religions. Job felt that underneath all the mysteries of life there is a Divine righteousness. When any godly man feels that, he can bear a great deal. It is useless shutting our eyes to the great difficulties there are in human history, and indeed in every individual life. We cannot always say that we feel God to be good and wise; but we know Him to be so; and that is all that is required of our faith.
I. Life in its phases of development. In one sense prophecies must fail. We cannot prophesy, from the career and circumstances of the grown man, what the coming days will bring with them, or how they will affect him. The one matter we are sure of is that God will not plead against the souls that love Him. The immediate exercises of the Divine will in providence are as wisely employed as the mediate ones through natural laws. The future can unfold nothing that is not quite as much the work of Divine goodness as of Divine power.
II. God in His fatherly character. The more we understand our own nature in its nobler aspects, the better should we understand God’s relation to His children. If it were not for our human relationships, how could we understand the relationship of God to us? The parental relation is common to all nations. Will a parent plead against his child? Will the Great Father do what the earthly father will not?
III. God in His almighty character. “With His great strength.” That is all the more reason that He should be delicate, tender, considerate, and kind. The strength of God, if we meditated upon Him apart from His moral perfections, might lead us to the worship, not of a Father, but of infinite power.
IV. The heart in its emphatic No! An emphatic answer that. There are some things that the heart decides at once, and this is one of them. “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” Let us answer at once, and “No.”
V. Life in its hidden springs. “He would put strength in me.” This is what we want. Not absence of temptation or trial. The springs of life, fed by God, need feeding in proportion to the very strain and exercise of our inner life. The Christian who has to struggle up the Hill Difficulty, and who passes through those experiences that tend to exhaust his forces, has much need of the grace and strength of God.
VI. Life in its past histories. We find this truth in experience as well as in the Bible. The ancestry of godliness is not a vain thing. The spiritual escutcheons of our families have symbols of moral victory in them.
VII. Life in its retributive aspects. Here we come to a positive instead of a negative view of the text. Will God plead against us if we live in sin and guilt, neglectful of Christ, and the great salvation? How can He do otherwise? (W. M. Statham.)
Behold, I go forward, but He is not there.
Obscurity of the Divine working
The perplexities felt by Job on this and kindred problems were not greater or more harassing than they are to us. Our advanced position in revelation, in knowledge, in experience, relieves us of no embarrassment felt by men of ancient times with regard to this greatest of all mysteries--the mystery of God as He dwells within Himself, and of the methods in which He governs the worlds of men and things. They seemed to dwell in God’s universe, while He did not always appear to dwell in their individual world. The world’s ripest religious thought is today what it was at the beginning of time,--a bright abyss into which men look “by faith, not by sight.” All things are contained in God: He is uncontained in all. All things reveal God: God is unrevealed in all. “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him.” There is a presence; but it is veiled. There is activity; but it is silent.
I. The activity of the Divine working. “On the left hand, where He doth work.” And we have but to open our Bible to find how all through its pages this great truth runs as the soul of its teaching. Events which are held to be quite independent of all special causation, the Bible puts into the hand of God. “He maketh the sun to shine.” “He sendeth the rain.” “He maketh the grass to grow.” “He giveth snow like wool.” “He holdeth the winds in His fist.” “The lightnings go before Him.” “Fire and hail, snow and vapour,” and the “stormy wind fulfil His word.” All material forces, as they are set into action and get their interplay in the management of the worlds, are the servants of God and do His bidding; and they are forces only so far and so long as they are the channels of His will. A change in the direction of the latter, a suspension in the purposes of God,--and all material activities perish. Personal endowments, which we count innate and constitutional, are His gifts. “There is a spirit in man, and the respiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.” Talents, whether of the body or the mind, are distributed by Him. “He holdeth our soul in life.” “He teacheth man knowledge.” “Genius is His gift; poetry His inspiration; art His wisdom.” The skill to govern, the heroism to defend, the science to construct and adorn a nation’s life are conferred by Him. “He teacheth” man’s “hands to war,” and his “fingers to fight.” There is running through every part of the inspired volume a profound recognition of law; but it is law into which there is inserted the ceaseless activity of a Divine volition. A causeless causation, a self-originating, self-acting law is unknown in nature; as it is non-existent in the creed of those ancient men to whom God revealed the earliest transcript of His thoughts. This activity of the Divine presence brings human life, with all its interests, very close to God. It makes each one of our own concernments real and very precious in its relation to Him. The individual is never slighted, can never be overlooked, is never forgotten in the magnitudes and the multiplicities of the Divine care. Amidst the play of His magnificent thoughts as these embrace the universe of things, His eye is set upon the one as upon the all, upon the atom as upon the mass. While the magnitudes and the multiplicities of worlds and systems are within the sweep of His plan, that plan takes in the obscurest individual, the most insignificant event. How this is, how it can be, we know not. “Behold, He that keepeth Israel, shall neither slumber nor sleep.” “Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in Thy book?” If from these general statements we pass on to those that are more specific in their details, the same truth still more impressively comes into view. Afflictions are not arbitrary visitations. They are never a lawless or a purposeless infliction. They are, in some of their visitations, resistless as the lightning’s flash, and as insatiable as the grave. Now, the Bible tells us that, in some significant sense, all these afflictions come from God. However apparently accidental, and without any order in their known antecedents, they all have a parentage in the providence of God; and they are all made tributary to a purpose. “He woundeth, and His hands make whole.” He chastiseth, and He rebuketh. “Thou, O God, hast proved us: Thou hast tried us. Thou broughtest us into the net; Thou laidest affliction upon our loins.” They are neither accidents, nor necessary appendages, nor arbitrary adjuncts of our nature or condition as men. They are methods of training, modes of correction, admonitory whispers, wise teachings in the dealings of God with us as fallen, as sinful men; and so far they are fraught with the kindest intentions, and minister to most important and salutary ends. God does not create evil. He does not necessitate suffering. He works it into His plan, and uses it for good. Death, avowedly the most impressive and terrible of all our afflictions, and coming upon us in the most unanticipated surprises of time and place and mode and victims, is claimed as the supernatural visitation of God. “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Whenever it comes, however it comes--whether it be by disease or accident, in youth or in age, at sea or on land--death is the appointment of God, and comes at His bidding; and the time, the place, the method are to be accepted and submitted to as being separately in His hand, and determined by His will. No man ever slips by stealth out of time, or appears unexpectedly in his Maker’s presence. “The keys of death and of hell” are in the hands of the Lord of Life. So on the grander scale of national visitations. “His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men.” “He changeth the times and the seasons: He removeth kings, and setteth up kings.” “He enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.” When a great nation is suddenly crippled in its resources, or blighted in its harvests, or wasted by the pestilence; when fires or floods carry havoc and death among a people; or war lays waste a peaceful territory, leaving only “its rills of blood and drifts of bones” where once the homestead bloomed in wealth and beauty; still the demand is, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Are the politics of nations only a great chessboard on which conflicting politicians play their little games of ambition, while God is out in the distance, unconcerned in the petty strife? Nay; through all these strifes and tossings of human pride and ambitious cupidity, there runs the thread of a Divine purpose, permitting all, holding all, guiding and subordinating all to a determinate end.
II. The obscurity of the methods of this working. “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there;. . .He hideth Himself, that I cannot see Him.”
1. There are reasons, depths and mysteries, in the methods of the Divine working, into which we cannot look; causes in which that working originates, and purposes which it intentionally subserves, past our finding out. How, through all this maze of human things, is the Divine will a creative force? We cannot tell. Sometimes, as if through the small chinks in the interplay of events, as by a sunbeam sifted through a rift in the clouds, we seem to got a momentary glimpse of the Actor and His plan. “The Lord uttereth His voice,”--and we can scarcely doubt whose voice it is, or what is the message it convoys. But it is not always thus. It is not frequently so. And least of all is it so with the sufferings of God’s people. However clear our views, however firm our convictions of the rectitude and wisdom and goodness of God may be, events are constantly taking place that confound all our reasoning; and while they tax severely our submission, they impose a heavy tribute upon our faith. “The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His foot.” “He giveth not account of any of His matters.” A silence, unbroken as the grave--absolute, awful, infinite--seems to mock the agony of the sufferer, without the solace of a momentary relief. “We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.”
2. One cause of this obscurity is, undoubtedly, to be found in ourselves, in the imperfect instruments with which we seek to gauge the purposes of God. I do not mean in the limitation of our human powers, making it impossible for the keenest scrutiny to pierce into those abysses of gloom in which God is surely and silently working; but in our want of a spiritual temper, the absence of a moral affinity between ourselves and God, which so surely puts us at a distance from Him, and so leaves the highways of His providence incomprehensible to us. Our unlikeness to the Divine nature is, I think, one of the main barriers which shut out the light from the sufferer’s eye. We do not see so far or so clearly into some of the Divine dealings with us as we might do, or as God intends we should do, just because the range of our spiritual eyesight is limited by some inward blur or film. Faith is the soul’s super sensuous eye; but when it is darkened by the distempers of sin, it is like a broken lens in a telescope, it fractures and distorts the image. In those matters it is with our spiritual senses very much as it is with the man who seeks to get a bold and commanding view of nature’s scenery; almost everything depends on the position we occupy. To those on the mountain top the light comes the earliest, and with them it lingers the longest. The air is purer; the range of vision is wider: while the skies without a cloud seem dark and distant to those down beneath the shadows in the valley. And so, doubtless, it is in the scope and power of that spiritual analysis by which we seek to understand the darker mysteries of providence. We lack sympathy with the great Operator in the intrinsic excellency of His being; and this puts remoteness upon our position and dulness upon our perception, as we seek to penetrate His policy in dealing with us. “We see through a glass, darkly.” Hence the remoteness in which men habitually think of God. The unvisioned eye sees Him only as a distant presence, a cold and silent spectator on the outermost confines of nature; or as utterly outside of His own world of men and things. God is so far off that our voice cannot reach Him, His hand cannot reach us; and though His arrows fly swift and terrible as the lightnings in their fiery tracks through space, they do, somehow, seem without a purpose. God reigns over the world; but we do not see how He governs it. On the other hand, the purified eye, the soul made clean from sin, pierces the gloom with a quick, intelligent gladness, that brightens everything, even the dark and sorrowful, into light and beauty. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.” Likeness to God, loyalty to conscience, trust in goodness, obedience to truth,--these unseal the eyelids of the soul, and flood with meaning the purposes of the Divine will.
3. The comprehensiveness of the plan on which providential enactments transpire, must of necessity entail obscurity in many of its details. “We are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon the earth are a shadow.” Our little world is but an atom of the great whole of men and things. The great whole of men and things is but an atom in the wholeness of the Divine plan. That plan must embrace all time and place; all worlds, with their inhabitants; and all events, with their issues. It takes in time; but then it takes in also eternity. Hence, first, events are never single. They have their antecedents, and their consequents. They may be the offspring not of one antecedent, but of many. To the all-embracing mind of Omniscience, each passing event of today must intertwine with all the extents of yesterday; as these will in turn embrace all other events in giving birth to those of tomorrow. So with the race of man. “We are all links in the great chain which winds round the two axles of the past and the future.” “We who live,” says Comte, “are ruled by the dead.” Here, then, is one of our grand mistakes in seeking to understand the ways of God. We are in too great a hurry to decipher passing events. We look for reasons too close to ourselves, too isolated and specific in their range; and so we seek results too immediate in time. While the Supreme Mind contemplates the whole of life in each link, and the whole of each separate link in the One chain, we narrow the great drama to one solitary act, and that beginning and closing in ourselves. We overlook the past, which to many of us may hold the secret of those very events whose occurrence overwhelms or distracts us in the present; and we shut out the future as well as the past; and, yet, both the past and the future may sustain some immediate but inscrutable relation to the mystery of the suffering present. “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways.” What can we,--what can angel minds know of this strange problem which providence holds for solution?
4. Then, the moral purposes which some, possibly many, of our darkest experiences are intended to accomplish, must not be left outside of the causes which perplex us. The response, “What I do thou knowest not now,” may indicate a mercy not less than a necessity. Light, making clear the purpose, might defeat the end. “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” “Tribulation worketh patience.” By these moral purposes we mean the sum total of religious gain that afflictive visitations are intended to secure--first, to the individual sufferer; then, to those with whom he may be more immediately related; and lastly, to the universal good. All human events, of whatever order, under whatever apparent exceptions, are to be construed by the Christian man according to that rule, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God”; or by a more distributive three-fold rule, containing, first, the negative assurance, that “there shall no evil touch” him; secondly, the positive pledge, that “no good thing shall be withheld from him”; and thirdly, the constructive, all-embracing promise that “all things” shall “work together for” his “good.” This threefold promise is the statute law, the blessed triune charter, under which the Christian lives; nor is any event ever suffered to befall a good man, but one, or both, or all three of these great laws come into benignant operation. This is the providence of grace. And it is in the methods through which these laws come out in their action, that one source of our perplexity not unfrequently reveals itself. Even when the vision is the clearest, it is often impossible to see which first, and sometimes how at all, these several promises are being manipulated in the interests of the individual man. Sometimes the end proposed is not related immediately to the means. As in the case of Joseph and Job, Daniel and Esther, the end to be reached appears wholly out of the way of the method employed. Then, the good contemplated in some dispensations of providence is not single, but manifold. In the history of Joseph, the afflictions of which he was the immediate victim had a mission backwards into his own family circle, and forwards into the Egyptian court, and so onward through all the world’s future history in its preparation through the Jewish nation for the incarnation and redemption of Christ,--results these, all of which seem to us incongruous and immeasurably distant in their relation to the “coat of many colours,” and the exile and slavery in Egypt; yet, to God, they were all braced into a consistent and instant present, the last link parallel with the first, the first coincident with the last. The ploughshare of the destroyer goes crashing through the centre of a household, upturning suddenly its very foundations, and in the ghastly wreck extinguishes a whole springtime of youthful hopes in a father’s grave. Do you ask, Why all this? Why does God hide His purpose, and robe His presence in clouds and darkness even from those who love Him? The answer, sufficient for us, is, That our manhood may be trained to trust. We grow strong by endurance. If we knew all beforehand, there would be no room for faith, for submission, for the balancing of motives. If we knew as God knows, we should be as God.
But we are infants, being trained. Patience is the fruit of trial. Our faith is born in struggle.
1. Here then is, first, a rebuke to our petulance. It says, “Be still, and know that I am God!” We are in the dust before Him. “Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased.” What can a child, on the scaffolding of some unfinished colossal pile of architecture, know of the skill and purpose of its construction? And what are we but baby builders in the plan of God,--ephemeral insects, whose life is a leaf in the forest of worlds!
2. Let us see how this present obscurity ministers to hope. The darkness which now envelops the Christian’s path, and which for the reasons we have shown must continue to envelop it, creates, as it justifies, the expectation that hereafter, in this or in some other state, light will arise out of obscurity, and we shall see as we are seen, and “know even as also” we are “known.” It cannot be that the limitations, the disappointments, the chafings of a bitter unrest are to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Some of the sorrowful chapters of life may be made clear even on this side of the screen.
3. Still more fully, still more tenderly, this assurance of light takes in the future world. “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” There are profundities in creation which from the beginning of time have been struggling to get into expression, and have not spoken yet. And there are mysteries in our human life--events, epochs, dispensations--whose cloudy advent in time will constitute apocalyptic visions for our studies through eternity. “The times and the seasons the Father hath put in His own power.” In the wide uplands and glorious expanse of the eternal life, God will surely tell thee, thou poor, solitary sufferer, why thou wast left alone, without a sheltering hand or a counselling voice, when in the inexperienced days of youth thou neededst them the most. (J. Burton.)
The unseen God “declared”
This passage represents to us a gracious soul, sighing and seeking anxiously after more personal and peculiar intercourse, and even most intimate fellowship with its God, and therefore is made to feel painfully the silence, the reserve, and the secrecy, which, as the God of nature and providence, He so inviolably adheres to.
1. It might relieve us, if God were to reveal Himself, even in any degree, to any one of our external senses. But He never now condescends to discover Himself even thus far to the inhabitants of our world. Consequently it is not unreasonable for us all to dread that there may be some judicial reason why God is so hiding Himself from our knowledge.
2. This suspicion appears to be confirmed in some measure, or to a certain modified extent, by our happening to know that there is at least one other world where the same God has other worshippers, from whom He never did hide Himself. There may be many more such worlds than one.
3. There was a time when it was far otherwise with this world. At one time it was so much like heaven, as that the Lord did in those days speak with a human voice to the man whom He had then just newly created, like unto Himself in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over all the inferior creatures whom he saw around him.
4. It tends to aggravate our quite natural and just suspicion, when we consider that God, who is now so hiding Himself from all the careless, will not always, nor even will He much longer continue to hide Himself from any one of us. Relief alone comes, when awakened to a sense of sin, we are led to turn to the Only Begotten of the Father. He hath revealed Him. (John Bruce, D. D.)
Searching for God
This man seems to be condemned by the moral order of the world, and yet knows that he is innocent. A man in such an awful strait as this may be expected to utter bold words. But Job does not array himself against God. He rather arrays God against God. The God he seems to see against the God he desires to see, but cannot. It is the God within Job that protests against a credal God without. But Job’s mistake lay in being angry because he could not get the full vision of God at once. He wanted it immediately. It is only by a long and hard struggle that we can get the vision of God. We must gain the sunny uplands where His face is seen by noble and untiring spiritual effort. There is no short and easy path to the sunlit sky. Further, when Job was challenging God to try him, Job was not aware that God was even then trying him; that in that very perplexity, in that very hiding of God, in that very darkness and conflict, through which Job was then passing, God was already sitting in judgment on him, and proving his life, to see whether it would come forth from the fire as gold.
I. The great search for God which every true life must undertake. The search must proceed, for there is no true life without the knowledge of God; and there is no full life without the satisfying knowledge of God. The true knowledge of God can only come through struggling. This will appear on the following two considerations.
1. A true knowledge of God is inward riving heart knowledge. And--
2. The true knowledge of God is progressive knowledge. But the truest man in the world may enter into seasons of very great perplexity. God is larger than our thoughts, and grander than our creeds. They cannot express the fulness of God.
II. The guarantee of the success of this struggle to find God. “He knoweth the way that I take.” The search for God depends on an inner knowledge of God; and we have the paradox, that we do know God, and yet are searching for Him. We know when we have found Him, for He is in our deepest life as an ideal. If our hearts are true, if our lives are sincere and pure, we have the guarantee that we shall at length see God in the fulness of His glory.
III. The purpose and issue of this great struggle. The struggle which is necessary to find God and truth is a test of our character. Truth requires a struggle, the constant use of our best energies. Infidelity is the laziest thing in the world, but it is by heart sweat that truth is found. The struggle to find God preserves the “truth of the life.” Life is preserved by progress, and progress involves conflict. Life is movement, stagnation is death. This struggle not only preserves the truth of the life, it purifies and develops it. This is my message--See that you struggle to find God. While you are searching, remember to be true. And search on. (John Thomas, M. A.)
But He knoweth the way that I take.
The good man’s way
A Christian in trouble should seek comfort in himself. His chief comfort lies in his relation to God. Only sincerity Godward makes such a statement as this possible.
I. The good man’s way.
1. It is the way He chooses for me.
2. It is the way of obedience to His will.
3. It is the way His Son trod.
4. It is the way of self-sacrifice for others.
II. God’s knowledge of the good man’s way.
1. He knows it; for He knows all.
2. He knows it with a sympathetic interest.
3. He knows it when the path is darkest and roughest.
4. He knows whither it leads.
III. The outcome of a good man’s trials.
1. God sees the discipline to be essential.
2. He fixes its limits.
3. He guarantees the beneficial result.
4. This will be precious and bright in its end. (I. E. Page.)
Whither goest thou
Job could not understand the way of God with him; he was greatly perplexed. But if Job knew not the way of the Lord, the Lord knew Job’s way. Because God knew his way, Job turned from the unjust judgments of his unfeeling friends, and appealed to the Lord God Himself.
I. Do you know your own way? So far as your life is left to your own management, there is a way which you voluntarily take, and willingly follow. Do you know what that way is? Do you know where you are going? “Of course,” says one, “everybody knows where he is going.” You are steaming across the deep sea of time into the main ocean of eternity: to what port are you steering? The main thing with the captain of a Cunarder will be the getting his vessel safely into the port for which it is bound. This design overrules everything else. To get into port is the thought of every watch, every glance at the chart, every observation of the stars. The captain’s heart is set upon the other side. His hope is safely to arrive at the desired haven, and he knows which is the haven of his choice. He would not expect to get there if he did not set his mind on it. What is it you are aiming at? Are you living for God? or are you so living that the result must be eternal banishment from His presence? If you answer that question, allow me to put another: Do you know how you are going? In what strength are you pursuing your journey? Is God with you? Has the Lord Jesus become your strength and your song? Are there any here who decline to answer my question? Will you not tell us whither you are going? Is anyone here compelled to say, “I have chosen the evil road”? The grace of God can come in, and lead you at once to reverse your course. But are you drifting? Do you say, “I am not distinctly sailing for heaven, neither am I resolutely steering in the other direction. I do not quite know what to say of myself”? But can you say, “Yes, I am bound for the right port”? It may be that your accents are trembling with a holy fear; but none the less I am glad to hear you say as much.
II. Secondly, is it a cohort to you that God knows your way? Solemnly, I believe that one of the best tests of human character is our relation to the great truth of God’s omniscience. It is quite certain that God does know the way that you take. The Hebrew may be read, “He knoweth the way that is in me”; from which I gather that the Lord not only knows our outward actions, but our inward feelings. He knows our likes and dislikes, our desires and our designs, our imaginations and tendencies. The Lord knows you approvingly if you follow that which is right. God knows your way, however falsely you may be represented by others. Those three men who had looked so askance upon Job, accused him of hypocrisy, and of having practised some secret evil; but Job could answer, “The Lord knoweth the way that I take.” Are you the victim of slander? The Lord knows the truth. The Lord knows the way that you take, though you could not yourself describe that way. Some gracious people are slow of speech, and they have great difficulty in saying anything about their soul affairs. Another great mercy is, that God knows the way we take when we hardly know it ourselves. There are times with the true children of God when they cannot see their way, nor even take their bearings. Once more, remember that at this very moment God knows your way. He knows not only the way you have taken and the way you will take, but the way you are now choosing for yourself.
III. Thirdly, do you meet with trials in the way? Out of the many here present, not one has been quite free from sorrow. I think I hear one saying, “Sir, I have had more trouble since I have been a Christian than I ever had before.” These troubles are no token that you are in the wrong way. Job was in the right way, and the Lord knew it; and yet He suffered Job to be very fiercely tried. Consider that there are trials in all ways. Even the road to destruction, broad as it is, has not a path in it which avoids trial. Then, remember, the very brightest of the saints have been afflicted. We have, in the Bible, records of the lives of believers. Trials are no evidence of being without God, since trials come from God. Job says, “When He hath tried me.” He sees God in his afflictions. The devil actually wrought the trouble; but the Lord not only permitted it, but He had a design in it. Besides, according to the text, these trials are tests: “When He hath tried me.” The trials that came to Job were made to be proofs that the patriarch was real and sincere. Once more upon this point: if you have met with troubles, remember they will come to an end. The holy man in our text says, “When He hath tried me.” As much as to say, He will not always be doing it; there will come a time when He will have done trying me.
IV. Fourthly, have you confidence in God as to these storms? Can you say, in the language of the text, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”? If you are really trusting in Jesus, if He is everything to you, you may say this confidently; for you will find it true to the letter. This confidence is grounded on the Lord’s knowledge of us. “He knoweth the way that I take”: therefore, “when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” This confidence must be sustained by sincerity. If a man is not sure that he is sincere, he cannot have confidence in God. If you are a bit of gold and know it, the fire and you are friends. Once more he says, “I shall come forth as gold.” But how does that come forth? It comes forth proved. It has been assayed, and is now warranted pure. So shall you be. After the trial you will be able to say, “Now! know that I fear God; now I know that God is with me, sustaining me; now! see that He has helped me, and I am sure that I am His.” How does gold come forth? It comes forth purified. O child of God, you may decrease in bulk, but not in bullion! You may lose importance, but not innocence. You may not talk so big; but there shall be really more to talk of. And what a gain it is to lose dross! What gain to lose pride! What gain to lose self-sufficiency! Once more, how does gold come forth from the furnace? It comes forth ready for use. Now the goldsmith may take it, and make what he pleases of it. It has been through the fire, and the dross has been got away from it, and it is fit for his use. So, if you are on the way to heaven, and you meet with difficulties, they will bring you preparation for higher service; you will be a better and more useful man; you will be a woman whom God can more fully use to comfort others of a sorrowful spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sustaining consciousness of the soul in sorrow
I. That the great God was fully cognisant of His individual trial. “He knoweth the way that I take.” Wherever I am, at home or abroad, in solitude or society, “He knoweth,” etc. He knows the way I take--the way my thoughts take, my feelings take, my purposes take. But what support is there in the knowledge of this fact?
1. God’s knowledge of the individual sufferer is associated with the profoundest love. “As a father pitieth his children,” etc.
2. His knowledge is associated with an almighty capacity to help. The other sustaining fact of which he was conscious was--
II. That the great God was mercifully using his trials as discipline. “When He hath tried me.” Why does He try by affliction?
1. Not that He has any pleasure in our suffering. “He doth not afflict willingly,” etc. Nor--
2. That He may discover what is in our hearts. He knows all about us.
But He does it--
1. In order to humble us on account of our sins.
2. In order that we may feel our dependence on Him.
3. In order that we may commit ourselves entirely into His keeping.
III. That the great God would turn his painful discipline to his advantage. “I shall come forth as gold,” etc. “Tribulation worketh patience,” etc. But how does affliction benefit?
1. It serves to raise our appreciation of the Bible.
2. It serves to develop the powers of the mind. David’s afflictions brought out some of the most brilliant of his psalms.
3. It serves to develop the spiritual life.
4. It serves to detach us from the world. It gradually breaks down the materialism in which the soul is caged, and lets it flee into the open air and light of spiritual realms. (Homilist.)
When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.--
Confidence in God under affliction
The very life of religion is communion with God. Everything short of this is mere formality or superstition. Observe--
I. Job’s dignified appeal to the Divine knowledge. Charged with being disingenuous and deceitful, Job meekly but firmly refers to Him who “tries the heart and the reins.” “He knoweth the way that I take.” This expression implies--
1. Consciousness of integrity. The way he took was the way of truth, in opposition to error, deceit, and falsehood; the way of holiness, in opposition to sin; the way of faith, in opposition to self-dependence.
2. A persuasion of Divine superintendency. “He knoweth.” Job speaks of it as a fixed and settled principle in the Divine economy, that He knows, because He superintends, all the ways of His people.
3. Entire satisfaction with the Divine judgment. In the estimate which men form of our character, they may be misled by ignorance, or warped by prejudice. But with Him this is impossible.
II. Job’s enlightened view of the Divine conduct. “When He hath tried me.” This refers either to that scrutiny which he so much desired, or to the affliction with which he was so painfully exercised. Apply this trial--
1. To your faith. So the apostle applies it. To believe that God designs mercy while He inflicts punishment, and to rest satisfied that He will fulfil His covenant, when He seems to be annulling it, is indeed a trial of faith.
2. To your love. That this should be strong and glowing, when your peace is undisturbed, is not surprising. The more painful and protracted the affliction, the more strong and decided the trial.
3. To your resignation. For the exercise of this feeling, affliction is absolutely necessary. It implies a state of things opposed to our wishes. Resignation is the yielding of a will subordinated to the will of God.
4. To the grace of patience. Patience waits for deliverance, and refers the time, the manner, and the degree, to Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. For patience the name of Job has become proverbial.
III. Job’s cheerful expectation of the Divine goodness. “I shall come forth as gold” proved, purified, and declared. Learn, from this subject--
1. The special design of all the diversified afflictions with which the people of God are exercised. Is it not a design of which you must cordially approve?
2. Your special duty in affliction. To commit your way, and, in the exercise of faith and resignation and patience, to refer your cause to Him.
3. What should be your special concern if delivered from affliction? To ascertain if the result correspond with the design. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The crucible of experience
The greatness of the Book of Job, that which won for it from Carlyle the eulogium that it is the finest thing ever written with pen, consists in the clear light it throws upon human trial and its issues. It is a unique manual upon faith, not in a proposition, but in life itself, because life is in the hands of God and represents
“Machinery just meant
To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee, and turn thee forth sufficiently impressed,”
as Browning, with his glorious optimism, has said. It teaches us a faith as deep as life, and makes man a sovereign in the world by inspiring him with an indescribable trust in the order of things. To those who seriously study the drama of Job, nothing becomes more clear than the fact that it would be complete without its ending. Job might have died under his affliction. He might have succumbed after hearing the testimony embodied in my text. He would have passed to his rest a greater, stronger man than he was before his trials came upon him. He would have completed his career, bequeathing a healthier influence to posterity, leaving a more valuable legacy in the world, than he would have bestowed apart from trial. The Bible, with its high and healthy idea of manhood, recognises this fact, and sets it forth with great clearness. When dealing with the goods we come to possess and enjoy, it frequently reminds us that we brought nothing into the world, and will take nothing from it, except character; that the only legacy we can leave, determining its use according to our desires, is the legacy we leave through character. How true this is! We may be born to affluence only to live in idleness. We may amass wealth by toil, but we cannot control its uses among those who come after us. We have no determining influence in the matter. But it is different with the influence we radiate through character. The thoughts we think, the testimony we bear, the influences we exert, give us a hold upon life--a sovereignty therein that death cannot loosen. Browning, with fine spiritual insight, has called the world our university, and has thus signified that from stage to stage of our life we go towards the graduation of the soul. It is a Christian idea enforced by genius. In learning it we achieve the victory of spirit. Our soft and luxuriously materialistic age builds on happiness without that highest good of men and women. In any kind of adversity it cries out, where is God? and voices the cry of the fool. But the world is our university. Christ was crowned on the Cross, and we are all crowned as we share and accept the Cross. It is the condition of triumph. It is only when we are tried that we come forth as gold. Trial plays a large and beneficent part in life. It comes to us all very early.
1. It comes into the life of the young man and the woman just entering the world when their education is completed and their responsibility has begun. Up to the day of their departure from home their parents have fended for them, they have been nourished and protected and helped. They have received all the care bestowed upon them as a matter of course. And when they steer clear of the dear old home, the day which dawns upon them seems bleak and unpropitious. The mother’s tenderness is left, the father’s advice is eliminated; they enter a world of strangers. They realise that they must depend upon themselves. Clouds gather upon the sky of their imagination, although these may be dispersed by worth. And just because that fact is true, those launched may realise that their new day is making them. Before it has long dawned they may have proved upon the pulses of their experience that they have begun to think, that they know what prudence is, not by reading about it, but by developing the virtue; by trial they know what life is, not by dreaming about it, but by endeavouring it. That experience involves trial, yet it is that which is amply justified in its issue. It gives an air of decision to us. It calls our manhood and womanhood into a new dignity. But darker days follow, which must also be measured according to the standard of a worthy faith. There are, for instance, those days when the old home is broken up, when those at its head are called into the unseen, and a desolation is made around us; when they constitute a fellowship our imagination cannot picture, but our hearts must ever affirm. It is an indescribable loss to have to sacrifice the reverend members of a true home. And yet we are not to be pitied. In such conditions God opens up a new opportunity for us. He teaches us initiative. All the seriousness, all the wisdom, all the tenderness in our natures are evolved. We become ministers to men and women, not by choice, but by necessity. When this experience is granted to men and women, their thoughtful contemporaries remark that while God is making a desolation about them He is at the same time endowing them with grandeur of character. And again the words are verified, “He knoweth the way that I shall take; when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” The trials to which I have alluded are entirely good. It is good that we should have to go out into the world and learn responsibility by fighting for ourselves. It is good that one generation should pass and another inherit the problems of its representatives. The forms of trial which I have noticed so far are altogether good; but there are other forms. Many have to battle with adversity; some have to bear the burden of sickness; others have to experience ingratitude, and yet the issue of these forms of trial is still good rather than evil. We may say so without any shallow optimism. There is benefit in adversity, in whatever form it may reach us. Shakespeare, with his clear insight and large outlook, has said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” And Seneca has spoken words that deserve to be “written in gold on this point:” No man knows his own strength or valour but by being put to the proof. The pilot is tried in a storm, the soldier in a battle, the rich man knows not how to behave himself in poverty. He that has lived only in popularity and applause knows not how he would bear infamy and reproach. Calamity is the occasion of virtue, and a spur to a great mind. Very many times a calamity turns to our advantage, and great ruins have made way to great glories. Prudence and religion are above accidents, and draw good out of everything. Affliction keeps a man in use and makes him strong, patient and hardy. God loves us with a masculine love and turns us loose to injuries and indignities. He takes delight to see a good and brave man wrestling with evil fortune, and yet keeping himself upon his legs when the whole world is in disorder about him. No man can be happy that does not stand firm against all contingencies, and say to himself in all extremities, ‘I should have been content if it might have been so and so, but since it is otherwise determined, God will provide better.’“ How wise and strong these words of the Stoic are. It is a stern world in which we live, even although it is kind. The price of free rational life is suffering up to man; and even in humanity itself, through lower to higher natures; while the justification of suffering is progress. “What made you a Skald?” says a king in one of Ibsen’s plays, to a poet. “Sorrow, sire,” the Skald answered. Adversity only baffles us for the moment, and when we struggle with it, we find that we have been baffled to fight better. All the best men and women of whom we read in former generations, and all the best men and women we know in our own generation, have battled bravely with life, and have gained character in the struggle, have proved, upon the pulses of their experience, the wisdom of Shakespeare’s words, that the uses of adversity are sweet. They have no quarrel with life. But there is another form of trial, that which comes to us through sickness, when it seems laid like a kind of fetter upon the mind. Our generation is resonant with the echoes of cheap pessimisms, and perhaps nothing is regarded as justifying these more than human suffering. Why does it exist in the world at all? Where is God? What is the good of life? So we read, so we hear. But the significant thing is that the people who so speak and write are not the sufferers themselves--not even when they have the gift of genius, with its great capacity for suffering. They show to us invariably, how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong. Who illustrated this fact better than the late Louis Stevenson, in his brave fight with encroaching death? He of all men had good reason to affirm that this is of all the worst possible world. Yet of this very tendency he writes in one of his inimitable essays: “We are accustomed, in these days, to a great deal of puling over the circumstances in which we are placed. The great refinement of many poetical gentlemen has rendered them practically unfit for the jostling and ugliness of life, and they record their unfitness at a considerable length. Young gentlemen, with three or four hundred a year of private means, look down from a pinnacle of doleful experience, on all the grown and hearty men who have dared to say a good word for life.” Stevenson suggests that the pessimists of our day are not the children of sorrow, but rather epicures of their own emotions, who prate of a sorrow which they have not known. Sorrow is silent. Sorrow is a fast of God’s own appointing, and when men and women really enter upon it, they can say with Christ, “Thy will be done.” They know that God is trying them in order that He may turn them forth as gold. There is the trial of ingratitude. That seems hardest of all to bear. To do good and call forth evil instead of responsive sympathy. To love, but yet in vain: that nearly breaks the heart. So we say. But is it really so? Does it not really make the heart? The late Principal Caird, in his lectures on the fundamental ideas of Christianity, finds in the distinctive Christian doctrines sanction for the thought that “in the nature of God there is a capacity of condescending love, of boundless pity and forgiveness, yea, with reverence be it said, of pain and sorrow and sacrifice for the salvation of finite souls; a capacity which has been and could only be revealed and realised through the sorrow and sin of the world.” It is profoundly true, man’s need is God’s opportunity. And it is true in human as in Divine relations. Those who bare vexed us most, those who have tried us in the hardest sense., have often enabled us to realise ourselves in a way we could not have done had they not crossed our path. And these testimonies are verified in the action of our Lord and His great apostle. It was when the agony of Gethsemane and the bitterness of the Cross were drawing near, when He knew that men had rejected Him, that our Lord said His Father loved Him because He laid down His life. It was of Israel, from which he was an outcast on account of his apostleship, and by whose representatives he was persecuted daily, that Paul said, “I could wish that myself were accursed for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.” Under the influence of these testimonies, and in the light of these facts, we learn that even the ingratitude which wounds love, makes man, and enables him to bear witness to that deepest and grandest element in his experience which Shelley recognised when he called him the Pilgrim of Eternity. And that also is growth. Under such experiences man is still tried, that he may come forth as gold. How much we owe to men who have been tried in life, and who have proved worthy under their tests! The lords of literature have been in the crucible of experience. Dante’s immortal work is the epic of the Middle Ages, and is full of winged words and seminal thoughts which stimulate our spirits, and fructify in us still. It grew out of the experience of a man of sad, lone spirit, the son of mental pain. The lords of literature have been tried that they might come forth as gold. But these immortals are not the only beings who have been refined and perfected in the crucible of experience. We can find those who have benefited in this way in every walk of life. The picture of the radiant young man or woman full of unspoiled powers, and surrounded by unused opportunities is fascinating. But it pales before the picture of the man or woman fashioned more grandly in the stress of life; and sometimes when, in awful cases, ministrant men and women are needed, people who can say the right word to the anguished and give them peace, or who can lift the suffering out of pain, you shall note that they are those with faces lined with sufferings which are past, and full of peace that has been conquered. These are the final argument, that in the crucible of experience we are tried that we may come forth as gold. They stand round Christ, the Head of our humanity, and augment that river of life which, having its origin in His transcendent sacrifice, streams through our religion, our philosophy, our literature, and our life, and brings the healing of the nations. As we consider them, as the light of their witness falls across our path, faith in life is generated in our hearts. Thus in the power of God we rival nature. The heavens declare God’s glory, and the firmament showeth forth His handiwork from season to season. The stars shine in winter and summer, before and after the storm. So they provoke the men and women who tell their number, and who weigh them, to behave. That is the role of the lords of life, and Christ came, and abides among us, that we might assume it and triumph therein. Life should not impoverish but enrich us. Through all its vicissitudes there should be abounding and abiding glory in the firmament of our experience. (F. A. Russell.)
God’s deeper good
During the week that has passed since our service of last Sunday morning, more than one friend of mine has spoken to me about the teaching which was given from this pulpit. One of them half jocularly addressed me in this fashion: “Did I truly understand you to say that you could wish for your friends’ adversity rather than prosperity? Because, if so, I cannot say that that is what I should wish for you, or, indeed, for any of human kind; and were I endowed with omnipotence I certainly should not employ what you call ‘God’s evil’ as an experience for the righteous.” My friend’s statement contains a good deal of what is common or popular feeling in respect to that insoluble subject, the mystery of evil; but as his particular statement contains so much that the ordinary right living man feels to be a just statement of his perplexity in regard to God’s dealings with him, I must return to that subject this morning. To begin with, I must say that my general statement that for my friends I could wish adversity rather than prosperity ought, perhaps, to be differently phrased. Then I am sure there would be no difference of opinion between me and anyone present. I would rather state it thus,--For my friend I could rather wish the fruit of adversity when adversity achieves its highest in the human soul. Let me put to you a rhetorical question, the answer to which will be in your mind and heart as I put it. Suppose you had to live your life over again, there is not one of you who would wish to live through just the same set of experiences as you have already had. You could wish that the dark days and the times of deep sorrow might not come again, but I am perfectly sure that you would wish you might have the results of those experiences, without the history. Then I think we are agreed to say that the best we could wish for our friend is that which we actually know from experience comes only hand in hand with adversity, that adversity succeeds in achieving the highest, though we might not wish for him the pain of the adversity itself. If I were endowed with omnipotence, my friend, your pathway would always be fair; and yet if adversity were the necessary price to pay, and if I knew it must be paid for making you the noble man you are, then I would let adversity come upon you with all its might. But the objection of my friend strikes deeper. It amounts to this--God’s ways are inexplicable. It is the righteous and not simply the guilty that have to suffer as the world is now organised. We could understand His dealing if the inevitable sequence of wrong-doing were pain, but we fail to understand it when the righteous man suffers equally and indiscriminately with the guilty. Moreover, is it not often that God’s sternness causes moral harm rather than moral good? I understand the feeling that is behind an utterance of that kind. It means this--If I were God I would make the world differently. There, I think, I have stated our friend’s real meaning with perfect frankness. Now, allow me to say that when we talk about evil as an intruder, we are, in nine cases out of ten, obscuring the issue which is really present to our mind. Good has not yet come. Evil is relative, negative, primitive. Our experience of what is evil is our conception of an absent good, and the fact that we can see a thing is evil is in some way a promise of a coming good. Let us leave it there. Your generous impulse to say if you had the power evil would be excluded from the world, is really some sort of prophecy of what God intends to do. Now, there has never been given a good and sufficient answer to this urgent question of the human heart. It is the old, old theme, the theme from the Book of Job from which I have taken my text this morning. But I venture to think, though no complete answer has ever come, the answer is that submission to the will of God introduces us to a harmonious experience. Observe the theme of the book from whence our wondrous text is taken. Job, the central character, appears as a righteous man who is yet a sufferer; but he is not a sufferer for any worthy cause for which a man might be glad to suffer, nor apparently is he a sufferer giving any striking testimony on behalf of a noble cause. Many such testimonies have been given, and have robbed martyrdom of its agony. But Job is made a sufferer without seeing why, and is it any wonder that he feels that his suffering cannot be a punishment for his offences? He asserts his own righteousness, not in any arrogant fashion, and not as though God had no fault to find with him. He says, “This sternness in God’s dealing with me cannot be the fruit of my own wrongly lived life.” His friends defend God and say that Job is being righteously chastised; and the writer of the book, one of the oldest books in the Bible, has it before him to show that the righteous man, though afflicted, is more righteous than those who defend God’s judgments upon him. Job’s reply and its wonderful insight are expressed in the words of the text, “He knoweth the way that I take,” what does human judgment matter to me? He knoweth the way that I have been living, uprightly, in the fear of God, dealing honourably with men. Then Job says that he had lived righteously, and his pain was in no sense his own desert. “He knoweth the way that I am taking with my life; when He hath tried me, my innocence shall shine out.” I am not sure whether we are entitled to read into the text that Job’s faith rose to a higher altitude there and affirmed that “as the outcome of what God hath done I shall be a better man, a deeper nature, nobler, stronger, wiser.” Perhaps he did not mean that, but it is at least open to that interpretation to my that he did. “When He hath tried me, not only will my innocence shine out as gold and show that God is not punishing me, but rather fashioning me; not only will mine innocence shine out, but my nobleness will be beaten out and gained and won.” Now we will never get any nearer to the solution of the problem of what we have called “God’s evil,” and which I now call “God’s deeper good,” than that. Here I pause to read to you an experience, the experience of a young man, it is true, but not, I venture to think, a crude one. Humanity at its highest, I mean its highest point of spiritual knowledge, has never got higher than this, which is from Mr. John Morley’s Life of Gladstone, and the passage from which I quote is one of Arthur Hallam’s letters written to his friend Mr. Gladstone when both were at Oxford. Mr. Morley, commenting on it lower down, says that of course it is a young man’s way of looking at an old problem, but you will admit that he got very near the solution of the problem. “The great truth which, when we are rightly impressed with it, will liberate mankind, is, that no man has a right to isolate himself, because every man is a particle of a marvellous whole; that when he suffers, since it is for the good of that whole, he, the particle, has no right to complain, and in the long run, that which is the good of all will abundantly manifest itself to be the good of each. Other belief consists not with theism. This is its centre. Let me quote to this purpose the words of my favourite poet. It will do us good to hear his voice, though but for a moment.” Then he quotes from Wordsworth’s ”Excursion” the lines well known probably to everyone as well as to myself--
“One adequate support
For the calamities of mortal life
Exists--one only: an assured belief
That the procession of our fate, howe’er
Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being
Of infinite benevolence and power,
Whose everlasting purposes embrace
All accidents, converting them to good.”
I know not whether Mr. Morley could himself subscribe to that, but from words of his own, used later in the book, I almost feel that he could. He is speaking of Mr. Gladstone’s view, I think, of the work of Napoleon, and comparing it with that of worthier servants of destiny. He says, “Our work is to use the part given us to use, to use the parts that go to make up the life, and to use them with a feeling of the whole.” Now that is the point that I wish to emphasise most expressly in your hearing. We do not live for ourselves. I am quite of those who think that if God’s only purpose in the disciplining of mankind were to produce noble character we might be fairly entitled to say to Him, “Then you might have produced it in some other way.” God could. It is not beyond His power. God could make a noble man without sending him through the furnace. But if it be true that we are only a little corner in the life of the universe, living not our own, but the life of the whole, and if it be true that we are living, not simply for ourselves but for God, it adds a dignity to our conception of our destiny. And, though I preach confidently in this way an optimism, I trust I do not preach it superficially or crudely. I do not preach an optimism because I ignore the dangers and the possibilities of a pessimism, nor because I possess no acquaintance with the darker side of life, but the optimism of the Christ is mine. Did Jesus ever act or speak as though He would ignore the seamy side of existence? We lesser beings, following feebly and haltingly in the steps of Jesus Christ, must try to see with His eyes even from our Calvary when it comes, and it is not Calvary all the time, and to believe, nay to be sure that in our Father’s hands are all our ways. God will care for the least as for the greatest. We are not only instruments in His hands, every one of us is also an end. I would add to this one or two reflections with which I close.
1. The first is that if you could see things as they really are, there would be no trouble, nor care, nor fear left in your experience. It is just because you cannot see that these things seem to dominate your life. Faith is eminently reasonable in that it lifts the soul to an altitude whence it can take a calm and wide view of existence as a whole. Faith is an approximation to seeing things as they are. Life to many of us seems like a dream. In a dream we take a distorted view of realities which in our waking life do enter into our experience, but not as we dream them. It is the limitation that makes the mystery, the limitation in greatest part it is which is the failure.
2. Then I would say also this--pain is not an end in itself. That is the mistake of asceticism. When it is misapprehended it crushes men and does them harm. Pain is simply a means to an end, and its culmination must be joy if God is just. Pain is not the end, it is only the beginning, it is the creaking of the door as it is opened into heaven. We are helping God, do not let us forget that for a moment, and our consciousness of helping Him begets a harmony here and now. We are not left unto ourselves all the time. Some of our best service is done by suffering. But lest I leave you with a morbid impression in your mind, I would remind you of this, that struggle and discipline and battle and defeat sometimes do not take interest from life at all, they add zest to it. We ought to be thankful that God gives us the opportunity of playing the hero, of being a man; and we feel somehow--although we cannot make it clear in syllogistic fashion, for there is something higher than logic--day by day, in the small things as well as in the great things of life, we feel somehow that the universe is rightly organised, and victory is made possible in Godlike fashion for the children of God. Now, before I close I want to make you feel that what I am saying is real--I know it is, but I never could demonstrate this, and never will be able to do it. When we get down to the deeper good we find it is always purchased, as the highest Christian experience is and always has been, by the willing acceptance of the Cross. Let every man say as he thinks of God’s dealings with him today, “‘He knoweth the way that I take,’ and mean to take. I cannot see, yet I will be true. He knoweth all the time. He shall find me pure gold. I will be true to the best He has shown me, I will not fail my Heavenly Friend. ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.’ And He will not destroy, ‘for the Lord is mindful of His own.’“ (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
1. The best saints have in them a mixture of dross.
2. Trials, and sometimes fiery trials, are necessary to separate the dross from the gold. God has various methods of trying mankind.
3. The prospect of being benefited and brightened by affliction, reconciles believers to the severest of trials. “Tribulation worketh patience.” “Patience worketh experience.” “Experience worketh hope.” It may be that we are so often afflicted, because we have so much dross, that requires the fire, and many times a fierce fire, to separate it from the metal. (S. Lavington.)
The purification of the mind by troubles and trials
The afflictions of life, though often grievous enough in themselves, become much more so by that state of doubt and perplexity into which the mind of the sufferer is brought by them. He is tempted to despair, as thinking God has forsaken him; or to impiety, as imagining there can be no God who governs the world in wisdom and righteousness. In such a case, a wrong notion of human life is at the bottom of those desponding and murmuring thoughts, which arise in our hearts, on finding ourselves encompassed and oppressed by a larger share than ordinary of its cares and troubles. We look not forward as we ought to do. This life is no more than a preparation for another. There is no need to prove that this life is a state of trial. In general, we sink under temptation, because we do not sufficiently accustom ourselves to expect, and are therefore unprepared to encounter it. With this idea--that the present life is a state of trial--firmly impressed upon our minds, we should then stand armed for the fight, and by Divine assistance be enabled to overcome. Of the temptations or trials to which we are subject, some proceed from without, and others from within. The world endeavours at one time to seduce, at another to terrify us from the performance of our duty. Another source of trouble and uneasiness is that produced by the cross tempers, untoward dispositions, and other failings of those about us. Other trials have their origin from within, from the frame, or constitution either of body or mind. Either sickness or melancholy. Time would fail to enumerate all the different temptations that arise in our minds. They are as many and as various as our different passions and propensities, each of which will, at times, strive for the mastery, and all of which are to be kept, with a strong and steady hand, in due subordination and obedience. (J. Horne.)
Saints compared to gold
I. Gold is generally found buried in the earth, mixed with sand or other material, and therefore requires to be dug out and separated from those materials. So Christians have been taken out from the elements of this world. They have been hewn from nature’s quarry by the hammer of God’s Word and made separate (Ephesians 2:1, etc.).
II. Gold, though regarded as a pure metal, has yet some dross in it. At the same time, there is not any metal more free from dross and rust than gold. Christians, though holy and precious to God, are not without sin; there is some dross of corruption in the best of them.
III. Gold is refined in the fire, by which it is rendered pure, solid, and strong. Christians are put into the fire, or furnace of affliction, to purge and to refine them from their dross (Zechariah 13:9; 1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 Peter 1:7).
IV. Gold is precious. It is esteemed the most valuable on earth. Hence things of very great value are in the Scriptures represented by gold. Christians are a precious people, the excellent ones in all the earth. God esteems them as His portion.
V. Gold is very pliant. You may bend and work it as you please. So are Christians. God having infused His grace into their hearts, they have hearts of flesh; and God, by putting them into the fire, makes them more resigned and teachable, while others rebel and repine.
VI. Gold, though it be frequently put in the furnace, loses nothing but the dross. The fire purifies it and cannot destroy its precious nature. However fierce and raging the flames, gold retains its excellency. So the people of God endure the trial. They are not burned up or consumed in the furnace of affliction, though heated sevenfold.
VII. Gold is often formed into vessels for the pleasure, honour, and use of princes. So God forms His people for most excellent service--vessels of honour to hold the treasure of the Gospel, to communicate it to others (2 Corinthians 4:7), and are stewards of the Gospel.
VIII. To obtain gold, men endure much fatigue, losses, sacrifices, etc. So Jesus Christ endured great pain and loss for His people. He laid down His life for them.
IX. Gold is useful. It is that by which we obtain what is essential for life, etc. So Christians are useful--in their families, neighbourhood, to the world at large. They seek the salvation of sinners and the glory of God. The purposes of God, in reference to the diffusion of His glory in the world, will not be affected without them. (Homilist.)
My foot hath held His steps.
The fair portrait of a saint
Job has, in this part of his self-defence, sketched a fine picture of a man perfect and upright before God. He has set before us the image to which we should seek to be conformed.
I. Inspect this picture of Job’s holy life.
1. Job had been all along a man fearing God, and walking after the Divine rule. His way was God’s way. He knew no rule but the will of the Almighty. This is a great point to begin with; it is, indeed, the only sure basis of a noble character.
2. Consider Job’s first sentence. “My foot hath held His steps.” This expression sets forth great carefulness. He had watched every step of God to put his foot in it. He had observed the steps of God’s justice, that he might be just; the steps of God’s mercy, that he might be pitiful and compassionate; the steps of God’s bounty, that he might never be guilty of churlishness, or want of liberality; and the steps of God’s truth, that he might never deceive. He had watched God’s steps of forgiveness, that he might forgive his adversaries; and His steps of benevolence, that he might also do good and communicate, according to his ability, to all that were in need. Job had laboured to be exact in his obedience towards God, and in his imitation of the Divine character. There is no holy walking without careful watching. The expression here has something in it of tenacity; he speaks of taking hold upon God’s steps. Many Orientals have a power of grasp in their feet which we appear to have lost from want of use. An Arab in taking a determined stand, actually seems to grasp the ground with his toes. Dr. Good renders the passage, “In His steps will I rivet my feet.” So firm was his grip upon that holy way which his heart had chosen. The way of holiness is often craggy, and Satan tries to make it very slippery, and unless we can take hold of God’s steps we shall soon slip with our feet, and bring grievous injury upon ourselves, and dishonour to His holy name. To make up a holy character, there must be a tenacious adherence to integrity and piety. Again, to make a holy character, we must take hold of the steps of God in the sense of promptness and speed. Easterns say of a man who closely imitates his religious teacher, “his feet have laid hold of his master’s steps,” meaning that he so closely follows his teacher that he seems to take hold of his heels. It is a blessed thing, when grace enables us to follow our Lord closely. You know what came of Peter’s following afar off; try what will come of close walking with Jesus. Three things, then, we get in the first sentence--an exactness of obedience; a tenacity of grip upon that which is good; and a promptness in endeavouring to keep touch with God, and to follow Him in all respects. Consider the second sentence. “His way have I kept.” Job had adhered to God’s way as the rule of his life. When he knew that such and such a thing was the mind of God, either by his conscience telling him that it was right, or by a Divine revelation, then he obeyed the intimation, and kept to it. Keeping to the way signifies not simply adherence, but continuance and progress in it. He had not grown tired of holiness, nor weary of devotion, neither had he grown sick of what men call straitlaced piety. I like a man whose mind is set upon being right with God. Give me a man who has a backbone. The third clause is, “And not declined.” He had neither declined from the way of holiness, nor declined in the way. Some turn from God’s way to the right hand, by doing more than God’s Word has bidden them do. They invent religious ceremonies, and vows, and bonds, and become superstitious. Turning to the left is being lax in observing God’s commandments. He had shunned omission as well as commission. Job had not begun by running hard, and then got out of breath and flagged. One more sentence remains. “Neither have I gone back from the commandment of His lips.” As he had not slackened his pace, so much less had he turned back. You can turn back, not only from all the commandments, and so become an utter apostate, but there is such a thing as backing at single commandments. You know the precept to be right, but you cannot face it; you look at it, but go back, refusing to obey. Job had never done so. Going back is dangerous. We have no armour for our back, no protection in retreat. Going back is ignoble and base.
II. How Job came by this character. Note Job’s holy sustenance. God spoke to Job. “The words of His mouth.” What God had spoken to him he treasured up. Job lived on God’s Word. He esteemed it more than his necessary food. Not more than his dainties only, for these are superfluities, but more than his necessary food, which a man esteems very highly. The natural life is more than meat, but our spiritual life feeds on meat even nobler than itself, for it feeds on the bread of heaven, the person of the Lord Jesus. Remember, then, that you cannot be holy unless you do in secret live upon the blessed Word of God, and you will not live on it unless it comes to you as the Word of His mouth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When I consider, I am afraid of Him.
God’s displeasure a source of fear
Notwithstanding the general evenness of Job’s temper, and his quiet submission to Divine providence, there were two things which touched him more sensibly than all the other circumstances of his afflictions. That God should seem so much displeased with him, as to single him out as a mark to shoot at, when he was not conscious to himself of any such impiety to deserve it, according to the common method of His providence. And that his friends should call in question his sincerity in religion, and suspect him guilty of hypocrisy and secret impiety; because they concluded that such signal calamities could hardly fall upon any man that was not guilty of some such great crime towards God. The words of the text may be understood--
I. With respect to Job’s apprehension of God’s displeasure against him. He declares his firm resolution never to let go his confidence in God, whatever became of him; but the presence which troubled him was the great appearance of God’s displeasure.
1. What made Job so afraid of God when he considered, seeing he insists so much on his own integrity? Doth not this seem to lessen the comfort and satisfaction of a good conscience, when such an one as Job was afraid of God? We reply that mankind ought always to preserve a humble and awful apprehension of God in their minds. And that from the sense of the infinite distance between God and us. Moreover, the best of mankind have guilt enough upon them to make them apprehend God’s displeasure under great afflictions. Job’s friends insist much upon this, that God may see just cause to lay great punishments upon man, although they may not see it in themselves. But God may not be so displeased with such persons as lie under great afflictions, as they apprehend Him to be. This was the truth of Job’s case. In the hardest condition good men can be cast into, they have more comfortable hopes towards God than other men can have. Two things supported Job under all his dismal apprehensions. The reflections of a good conscience in the discharge of his duties to God and man; and the expectation of a future recompense, either in this world or in another What apprehensions of God may we entertain in our minds, when even Job was “afraid of Him”? None ought to look upon God as so terrible, as to make them despair; and men ought to have different apprehensions of God, according to the nature and continuance of their sins.
II. With respect to Job’s vindication of himself from the unjust charge of his friends. As though he were a secret hypocrite, or a contemner of God and religion, under a fair outward shew of piety and devotion. Job declares the mighty value and esteem he had for the laws of God; and the fear of God in him came from the most weighty and serious consideration. Two things are implied--
1. That men’s disesteem of religion doth arise from the want of consideration; from their looking on religion as a matter of mere interest and design, without any other foundation: and from the unaccountable folly and superstitious fears of mankind, which make them think more to be in it than really is. Although the principles of religion in general are reasonable enough in themselves, and the things we observe in the world do naturally lead men to own a deity, yet when they reflect on the strange folly and superstitious fear of mankind, they are apt still to suspect that men, being puzzled and confounded, have frighted themselves into the belief of invisible powers, and performing acts of worship and devotion to them. But this way of reasoning is just as if a man should argue that there is no such thing as true reason in mankind, because imagination is a wild, extravagant, unreasonable thing; or that we never see anything when we are awake, because in our dreams we fancy we see things which we do not. Application--The more men do consider, the more they will esteem religion, and apply themselves to the practice of it.
Two things may be commended--
1. To consider impartially what is fit for men to do in religion.
2. To practise so much of religion as upon consideration will appear fitting to be done. God infinitely deserves from us all the service we can do Him. And we cannot serve ourselves better than by faithfully serving Him. (E. Stillingfleet, D. D.)
On the effects of consideration
Job here declares, in language of great sublimity, the unsearchableness of God. It was not a hasty glance at the character of God which gave rise to the fear which the patriarch expresses. His fear was the result of deep meditation, and not of a cursory thought. Deep meditation brought under review many attributes of the Almighty, and there was much in these attributes to perplex and discourage. It may have been only the unchangeableness of God which, engaging the consideration, excited the fears of the patriarch. But we need not limit to one attribute this effect of consideration. That the fear or dread of God is the produce of consideration; that it does not therefore spring from ignorance or want of thought; this is the general truth asserted in the passage. A superstitious dread of a Supreme Being is to be overcome by consideration; and a religious dread is to be produced by consideration. The absence of consideration is the only account that can be given of the absence of a fear of the Almighty. It is not by any process of thought that the great mass of our fellow men work themselves into a kind of practical atheism, Man is answerable for this want of consideration, inasmuch as it is voluntary, and not unavoidable. The truths of revelation are adapted according to the constitution of our moral capacity, to rouse within us certain feelings. By fixing our minds on these truths we may be said to insure the production of the feelings which naturally correspond to them.
See how the fear of God is produced by considering--
1. What we know of God in His nature. We know how powerful a restraint is imposed on the most dissolute and profane, by the presence of an individual who will not countenance them in their impieties. So long as they are under observation they will not dare to yield to impious desires. There is nothing so overwhelming to the mind, when giving itself to the contemplation of a great first cause, as the omnipresence of God. It is not possible that the least item of my conduct may escape observation. The Legislator Himself is ever at my side. The more I reflect, the more awful God appears. To break the law in the sight of the Lawgiver; to brave the sentence in the face of the Judge; there is a hardihood in this which would seem to overpass the worst human presumption. It is not the mere feeling that God exercises a supervision over my actions, which will produce that dread of Him which Job asserts in our text. The moral character of God vastly aggravates that fear which is produced by His omnipresence. We suppose God just, and we suppose Him merciful, and it is in settling the relative claims of these properties that men fancy they find ground for expecting impunity at the last. However on a hasty glance, and forming my estimate of benevolence from the pliancy of human sympathies, I may think that the love of the Almighty will forbid the everlasting misery of His creatures, let me consider, and the dreamy expectation of a weak and womanish tenderness will give place to apprehension and dread. The theory that God is too loving to take vengeance will not bear being considered. The opinion that the purposes of a moral government may have been answered by the threatening, so as not to need the infliction, will not bear to be considered.
2. The connection between consideration and fear will be yet more evident, if the works of God engage our attention; His works in nature and in redemption. There is nothing which, when deeply pondered, is more calculated to excite fears of God than that marvellous interposition on our behalf which is the alone basis of legitimate hope. God in redemption shows Himself a holy God, and therefore do I fear Him. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
Of the fear of God
In this chapter Job gives a noble description of the sense he had upon his mind of the invisible omnipresence and omniscience of God. To a man of virtue and integrity, the consideration of this great truth is a solid ground of real and lasting satisfaction. Take the expression of the text as containing this general and very important proposition,--that the fear of God is the result of consideration, attention, and true reason; not of empty imagination and vain apprehension. By the “fear of God” is understood, not the superstitious dread of an arbitrary and cruel Being, but that awe and regard which necessarily arises in the mind of every man who believes and habitually considers himself as living and acting in the sight of an omnipresent Governor, of perfect justice, holiness, and purity; who sees every thought as well as every action; who cannot be imposed on by any hypocrisy, who, as certainly as there is any difference between good and evil, cannot but approve the one and detest the other; and whose government, as certainly as He has any power at all, consists in rewarding what He approves, and punishing what He hates. This fear of God is the foundation of religion. The great support of virtue among men is the sense upon their minds of a supreme Governor and Judge of the universe. The ground of this fear is reason and consideration.
1. As to the ground and foundation of religion. That there is an essential difference between good and evil, man clearly discerns by the natural and necessary perception of his own mind and conscience. ‘Tis not a man’s particular timorousness of temper, nor tradition, nor speculation, that makes him see when he is oppressed or defrauded, that these actions are in their own nature unrighteous, and the person who is guilty of them worthy of punishment. Laws do not make virtue to be virtue and vice to be vice, but only enforce or discourage the practice of such things.
2. As religion and superstition differ entirely in their ground and foundation, so do they likewise in their effects. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Religion makes men inquisitive after truth, lovers of reason, meek, gentle, patient, willing to be informed. Superstition makes men blind and passionate, despisers of reason, careless in inquiring after truth, hasty, censorious, contentious, and impatient of instruction. Religion teaches men to be just, equitable, and charitable toward all men. Superstition puts men on undervaluing the eternal rules of morality. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
God maketh my heart soft, and the Almighty troubleth me.
God the softener of the heart
This is not a Jewish idea. The dispensation of Moses was a religious state, in which the harder features of the Divine countenance were brought to light, and by which the severer characteristics of the Divine nature were developed before the people, rather than their opposites. The ideas with which the dispensation familiarised their minds were more especially those of justice, judgment, retribution, and punishment. To speak of the softening of the heart, and to ascribe, as Job doth, the process and the operations by which it is softened unto God, must project our thoughts to other days which the “prophets and kings” have “desired to see,” but, except by faith, “did not see them.” It directs us to “the days of the Son of Man”; it leads us to think of the humanity of God, with all its consequent and concurrent tendernesses towards our own. Hardness of heart or spiritual insensibility is no isolated evil. It hath a numerous progeny. Hardness of heart, let it take what shape it will, is something to be prayed against. There is a moral ossification of the heart, as well as a physical The Pharisees of our Lord’s day were thus morally diseased. These hard bones, these intractable sinews of a perverse disposition and a rebellious will, these “horns of the ungodly,” must be broken, dissolved, ground to powder. Let it not be supposed that this softness of heart can be any reproach to us, or is in any way derogatory to moral and intellectual manliness. Our nature cannot be too tender so long as it is not weak. The sensibility of woman, joined with the intellect of man, would not render us too sensitive. Piety is softness of heart, tenderness of affection, sensitiveness of conscience to Godward. But how does God make the heart soft? He doth it by the influence of His Holy Spirit. This is so obvious as to need no proof. But the Spirit useth different means, and operateth upon us in a variety of ways, not only through the particular channels which He hath ordained, but in all manner of ways. Some other methods may be mentioned.
1. God maketh the heart soft by the influence upon us of the natural world.
2. By His Holy Word. This is an agency whereby the Spirit of God more peculiarly worketh upon the soul; and the natural objects to which the Word is compared show how softening its influences are. Dew; showers; small rain; snow; honey out of a rock; all which similitudes bespeak its tender, melting, mollifying power.
3. By the discipline of life. Trouble is a mighty mollifier of the heart. Trouble prepareth us for the sympathies of Nature and the consolations of God’s Word. Next to the Lord Jesus it is humanity’s best friend, and the more as it is no man’s flatterer. (Alfred Bowen Evans.)
“God maketh my heart soft”
Prosperity is often a curse, adversity is often a blessing. Observe the advantages of affliction. Confine attention to the softening of the heart.
1. The Scriptures speak of the hardness of the heart as the cause of impenitence and unbelief. Suppose that you were offered, on the one hand, temporal prosperity with a stony heart, or temporal prosperity with a new and softened heart, what would be your choice? If you are in adversity it may be that God saw prosperity to be dangerous for you. It is the Almighty that troubleth you. Thank Him for having troubled you. Pray Him to soften your heart wholly.
2. Since God certainly designs affliction for your profit, have a care that you do profit by it.
3. How are we to profit by affliction? To this end, we must repent us truly of our sins past, and resolve, by God’s grace, to abandon them. Our good resolution must not be impulsive and evanescent, it must be deliberate and decided, in order that it may be permanent. God has promised to help us, and He alone can give us the strength to succeed; but He requires a concurrent will. If you would profit by affliction, you must be “instant in prayer,” and diligent in the study of God’s Word. Learn, then, to look at affliction in the true light, and from a Christian point of view. It is designed by God to make your heart soft. (James Mackay, B. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 23". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25